The first time Noor Salman told her aunt about the abuse she’d suffered at the hands of her husband was also the first time she found herself free of him. It was June 2016, just five days after her husband, Omar Mateen, had walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring many others before he died in a shootout with police. Salman and her aunt, Susan Adieh, had driven the 13 hours from Port St. Lucie, Florida, where Salman was kept under lock and key by her in-laws in the shooting’s aftermath, to Adieh’s hometown of Batesville, Mississippi. When they arrived in Batesville, Salman recalled all the times that he had punched her, called her names, and sexually assaulted her during their marriage.
“Just like a maid in the house — that’s what her life was with him. And sex when he needed it out of her,” Adieh told The Intercept. “I went crazy when she told me all this.”
Now, nearly two years later, Salman is on trial for the only charges being brought in relation to the Pulse massacre. She has been charged with aiding and abetting her husband’s support of a foreign terrorist organization, as well as with obstruction of justice. Jury deliberations in her case began Wednesday.
While questions remain about the facts of the case, the abuse Salman endured is indisputable — and it highlights the widespread phenomenon of domestic abuse victims being prosecuted and incarcerated for acts committed by their abusers, or for crimes they were forced into because of the abuse. Both prosecutors and Orlando community members understandably want to seek justice for Pulse victims. But Salman’s family and advocates for defendants in situations like hers say that few are stopping to ask the question: Why is a domestic abuse victim being tried for crimes that her abuser committed?
Gail Smith, the director of the Women in Prison Project, a subdivision of the Correctional Association of New York, says that Salman is far from the only abuse victim she has seen prosecuted when the perpetrator of the crime has died or isn’t available. “The prosecution will find somebody to punish,” Smith told The Intercept. Abuse victims often end up being that “somebody.”