after making a phone call or two to authorities, the problems
on your client's case aren't corrected, a face-to-face
meeting between an advocate, a victim, perhaps a support
person, and a ranking official, can often turn the tide.
These meetings can work not because you're applying particularly
heavy handed tactics, but more because they bring into
play the formidable persuasive powers of a face-to-face
relationship. The official is literally made to come face-to-face
with the victim's plight and related injustices, something
higher officials rarely have to do. And he or she has
to do so in the presence of you, the advocate, serving
as the meeting's compass, as witness, and as a defender
of the victim's rights. Many otherwise callous officials
respond to such meetings by making abrupt improvements
in the handling of the victim's case, and often by taking
the case under their wing.
meeting with the brass can also yield benefits far beyond
the immediate case. Face-to-face meetings can leave a
lasting impression of your willingness to go up the ranks
and to stand your ground for your client's rights. Just
one well executed in-person meeting can quickly establish
solid, long term working relationships with top officials.
Future problems in the current or future cases can often
then be resolved with no more than a quick phone call.
whether a face-to-face meeting is the right approach to
your client's problem, it's also important to consider
that these meetings can be more unpredictable than other
means of pressuring authorities. You never quite know
what the official's going to pull out of his or her hat,
or how the victim's going to react. And there's no time
to go back to the drawing board. You have to think on
The key, of
course, to minimizing the risks, and to maximizing the
enormous benefits of a face-to-face meeting, is good preparation
of both yourself and your client ahead of time. The following
tips are meant to help you and your client walk into meetings
as a strong, unified team, and then to come out of the
meeting with specific commitments from the official to
set things right for your client and her case. Don't be
discouraged by the length of details given here. Once
you've done this a few times, the preparation will get
to be second nature, and you'll find yourself putting
these meetings together on a dime. And though we focus
here on meetings with criminal justice officials, the
same principles apply and can serve you in resolving problems
of all sorts with any kind of official.
the Official Who has Direct Power Over the Situation.
to meet with an official who has enough power over the
case that he or she can resolve the problems without having
to consult with others. At times, this may be the case
officer's direct supervisor. But depending on circumstances,
it may require someone at least a rank or two higher up.
And if the problems are severe, don't hesitate to go to
When you make
the appointment for the meeting, tell the person how many
people are coming and who they are. The best make-up for
these meetings is the victim, an advocate, and a support
person of the victim's choice. It's best if that support
person is someone who is willing and capable of taking
notes. Meetings of just the victim and advocate are fine
when the issues are minor.
up the appointment, as a general rule, you should give
a brief heading to the issues you want to discuss. But
don't give too much information. If you begin going into
detail on the phone, it's only natural the official will
just try to resolve things then and there, on the phone.
Giving too much detail also hands the official the means
to put together a game plan for dispensing with you quickly
in the meeting, if that's his want.
If an official
refuses to set a meeting with you, call directly to the
person's supervisor. There's no one who has more call
for a person-to-person meeting with criminal justice officials
than a victim of violent crime who is unhappy with the
handling of her case. It's not acceptable for an official
to say "No" to such a meeting. And, in our experience,
it's rare that they do refuse such a request.
Victims shouldn't meet with top officials alone - particularly
when there are already problems in the case. The law
enforcement tendency to defend their positions - no
matter how wrong - with obfuscations, intimidations,
and manipulations, is far too strong for victims to
deal with on their own. If you are a victim reading
this, it's important that you find a good advocate who
will accompany you to any meeting you want to set up
with law enforcement to correct a wrong.
for the Meeting
a short, clear set of goals, complaints, and supporting
you go into the meeting, you, your client, and the support
person should have an tight outline of the victim's main
goals, complaints, and supporting points. It should all
fit on a half a sheet of paper and be easy to read at
with the Goals
early to clarify the goals of the meeting, even as part
of deciding whether or not a meeting is the way you want
to go. Once you've discussed the goals, suggest that your
client take some time by herself to think them over. It's
essential that the goals, as well as all other plans for
the meeting, truly represent the victim's wishes.
the goals in terms of specific commitments you and she
would like to have from the official when you leave the
meeting. Be sure to attach time and follow-up commitments
to the goals - otherwise there will be too much wiggle
room for an official to slip out of commitments later.
For example, if an official agrees to assign a new detective
to the case, ask that the official call you back within
a day to let you know the name of the new detective and
in what time frame the detective will be contacting you
or the victim. Always nail it down tight. (And in the
meeting, always write down the exact terms when the commitment
you and the victim know the goals, condense them in as
precise language as possible. Write them down in neat,
abbreviated form. Once in a meeting, you'd be amazed how
easy it is to get swept up in a discussion or side conversation,
and completely forget even key goals and important points
you wanted to make.
fact, purposely diverting the meeting off point is one
way officials can sabotage your goals. They just run the
clock. Traumatized victims are so vulnerable to kindly
inquires about their children, or their schoolwork, or
whatever other hurt the official picks up on, that things
can easily be completely swept off course by talkative,
sweet sounding officials. So arm the victim and her team
with a clear set of goals, and a pre-agreement to help
keep each other on track.
having a well defined set of goals doesn't mean you get
everything you want. But it does set up your team to present
an impressive united front no matter what the shifts of
the meeting. It's the first step in preventing officials
from diverting and dividing you.
are examples of the kinds of goals victims may have: Getting
a new detective or new prosecutor assigned to a case,
getting an investigation reopened, reviewed, or expanded,
setting officer/victim/advocate communication standards
for the case, getting neglected leads investigated or
neglected witnesses interviewed, getting more appropriate
charges filed, ending case delays, withdrawing unjust
plea bargains, reconsidering a rejected case for prosecution,
getting cases sent back to the police from the DA's office
for further investigation, getting the official to quell
workplace, family, or school harassment of the victim.
Addition to Goals, Make a List of the Main Complaints,
and a List of the Main Supporting Points You Want to Make.
a list of the case complaints that are the basis for the
meeting. Help the victim prioritize and condense the list.
This will help her immeasurably when it comes time for
her (or you) to describe the problems in the meeting.
surprisingly, during meetings victims can all too easily
stray into emotional retelling of the outrages the perpetrator
has done to her. When victims do that, it gives the official
the opportunity to sympathetically gush all over her in
feigned alliance with her, which, in turn, makes it next
to impossible for the victim to turn back around and stick
to the goal of making demands on the official.
process of making the list of case complaints is a good
time to explain this dynamic to the victim. Clarify for
her that the meeting is about correcting the outrages
of what the authorities have done to her, not what the
perpetrator has done. The urgency of the meeting certainly
ultimately stems from what the perpetrator did. But the
purpose is to focus on the misbehavior of the authorities.
Once understanding this, most victims will work to keep
that distinction in mind during the meeting. The list
of complaints she'll have in her hand will strengthen
that focus. In addition, the condensed list of complaints
will minimize the amount of meeting time spent on describing
the problem, and move the meeting quickly into nailing
down exactly how the problems are going to get solved.
third and final list you and the victim should make before
going into the meeting is a list of the main supporting
points of argument you want to put forth. The reason for
this list should be obvious. The last thing you want to
do is forget to lay out your best supporting points. And
it's worth repeating, forgetting something important in
the broil of a face-to-face meeting is so easy to do.
As with the other lists. Prioritize it, condense it, and
write it down.
Sometimes victims want the advocate to do most of the
talking in the meeting, including delineating her complaints.
It's always better if the victim can speak for herself.
But even if she wants you to do it, it's even more important
that you've carefully gone over all the main points
with your client. Tell her that even if you do most
of the talking, at the very least, she has to be willing
to affirm to the official, her agreement with what you're
an interesting thing that happens in these meetings when
you, the advocate, have carefully made sure you're right
on the same page with the victim. Even if she's said she
wants you to do most of the talking, victims often surprise
themselves a few minutes into the meeting by picking up
the conversation and taking over for herself. That, by
itself, is a satisfying reward of good advocacy. It means
you've set a solid, safe stage for a traumatized victim's
voice to come forth to power.
the three lists the main goals, the main problems,
and the main supporting points should all fit neatly
on one page of a steno pad, or on a half a sheet of paper.
Here's an example:
- get a new
detective assigned to the case
- get a commitment
that the detective returns phone calls within 24 hours
to the victim and advocate
witnesses A, B, and C this week
- get a commitment
that the Victim can bring a support person and/or advocate
to any meeting with detective
detective was insulting/blaming to victim
1 - his positive comment about the perpetrator
2 - his negative comment about victim behavior
- For three
weeks, detective has failed to interview key, easily
- He's failed
to return phone calls
denied victim request to have support person during
- The detective
has demonstrated so much unacceptable bias in the case
that victim has lost all confidence in detective
- Victim cooperated
fully with detective
- Victim has
legal right to support person in LE meetings
- Rape is
way too serious to the victim and community to tolerate
One of the
more surprising turns these meetings can take is that
within five minutes of your arrival the official agrees
to everything you ask. It happens that way more often
than you might think. So be prepared for continuing the
conversation with ideas about how these problems can be
prevented on future cases.
however, officials will at least go through some ritual
defense of his officer's handling of the case, lay out
some high sounding or intimidating legal bluster, and
make a few test stabs at undermining you, the case, or
the victim. But, if you do a half way decent job of responding,
massaging, and prodding, the official will generally come
around to granting much of what you want. Why? Because
the official is fully aware the job was done wrong and
it should be done right. At the other extreme, the official
may be dug in, intimidating, and immovable. Or any combination
of the above as you move from discussing one aspect of
the case to the next.
So it's important
to work through a couple 'what if' scenarios with the
victim. Naturally, you can't anticipate or plan for all
possibilities. But if you work through a game plan on
one or two scenarios, you and the victim will get a good
feel for how to work together on any eventuality. As the
advocate, you'll get that all important sense of your
client's comfort level for various tactics. And your client
will get the essential confidence that you're going to
handle the meeting according to her agenda and style,
and not according to yours.
'what if' that we go through with every victim - because
it happens so often, because it can happen at any kind
of meeting, and because if you don't get through this
particular scenario, the meeting is sunk before it starts.
The scenario is this:
comes out and greets everyone in the waiting area, and
then announces that he or she will only meet with the
victim, alone. It doesn't matter that you had already
informed the official on the phone as to who all would
be attending. This is a trick, and like all tricks, it's
underhanded. Don't be surprised. Don't be flustered. Be
often given by officials for 'needing' to meet alone with
the victim is that if others come into the meeting, it
will make them witnesses in the case. This rationale is
totally bogus for reasons we won't go into here. In fact,
this is another common trick within the trick; i.e. using
high sounding, but bogus, legal threats to make the victim
think she'll wreck the case even worse if she doesn't
do what the official wants. Or another common rationale
(trick) given for needing to meet with the victim alone
is that the official implies he knows some dark secret
about the victim's past, - and he doesn't want to embarrass
her in front of others. Since everyone has secrets, this
can easily throw any victim into panic. The real reason,
of course, that officials want to meet with the victim
alone is to separate the victim from her support system
so the official can easily manipulate the victim to his
(or her) position.
your client isn't prepared for this opening set of ploys
by the official to split the team, she will be caught
very off guard, very uncomfortable, and torn by what to
do. In all likelihood, with no preparation the end result
would be that the victim goes into the meeting on her
your client to the dynamics, especially as to why an official
would do this. Tell her that even if she wants you to
do most of the talking, that, at some point, she's going
to have to be able to clearly state her stance to the
official - because inevitably, and correctly, the official
will turn to her as the final authority on how the meeting
takes place. If you and she agree that there will be no
meeting without her team, the victim's going to have to
be able to state that clearly, in no uncertain terms,
straight to the official's face. If that's what she wants,
help her work out some smooth words to be able to express
her stance comfortably. "I really want to cooperate
with you and with the investigation. But I definitely
want to have my support persons with me. I don't have
any secrets from these people."
With a little
preparation, victims handle this just fine. Without preparation,
the official who pulls this move will almost certainly
succeed in separating your team before the meeting even
the details with your client: Is she willing (and able)
to take the lead in arguing with the official? Or would
she prefer that you do it? If initial persuasion doesn't
open up the meeting, is she willing to give the ultimatum
that if her support persons aren't allowed in the meeting,
that she will not meet alone? How far is she willing to
go? No meeting without everyone? Or does she just want
you (or herself) to try to persuade the official to allow
everyone in, but if that persuasion doesn't work, she
would like to have the meeting alone with the official
anyway? What are your back up moves?
response in this situation (and in many other situations)
is to throw the heat right back onto the official as fast
as possible, and to keep it there. "Are you saying
that you're not willing to discuss this victim's complaints
unless she's alone with you?" "Certainly you're
capable of finding a way to discuss the issues while restraining
yourself from embarrassing the victim." "Certainly
you can find a way to control yourself from revealing
evidence you don't want revealed." On the rare occasions
when an official will not give in to opening the meeting
to all, a final move will usually do the trick. "We're
going to just walk down the hall to the chief's office
right now if that's your final position."
One other scenario
that you should go through with the victim is to brainstorm
the official's most likely argument against your most
important goals and formulate your best response.
fall back position for almost any kind of roadblock is
to communicate to the official that you're not there to
ask for favors, you're there to get wrongs corrected and
rights implemented. Make it clear that that the problems
in the case must and will get remedied one way or another.
That it's vital to the victim's safety, the community's
safety, and the victim's right to justice. That if you
can't get the issues resolved here, you're going to go
wherever you have to go until the problems get resolved.
Many victims have an intuitive understanding of why
so many criminal justice officials will go to such obnoxious
lengths to get out of doing these cases properly. They
understand that it's not personal against her. They
understand that it's a sexist patriarchal system that
doesn't want to expend time, energy, and power on behalf
of women. That it's a sexist system with many of the
same attitudes that foster violence against women in
the first place. And that that's why women still have
to fight hard just to get the justice they deserve.
At the same
time there are many women who don't understand this at
all. Making sure your client understands these dynamics
is her best protection against all the unpredictable obfuscations,
bullying, intimidating, hide the ball, tricks the official
may try to pull.
No matter how much your preparation, there may be times
in these meetings when you're not sure what your client
wants you to do, or times where your client suddenly
melts down and agrees to the official's arguments against
her goals. When this happens, it's perfectly reasonable
to turn your attention completely to your client and
converse with her. Tell the official something to the
effect of, "Let me take just a moment to talk with
Andrea." Then focus totally on your client as if
the official isn't there. Clarify a point with her,
suggest she put off a final decision until later, express
your opinion, or whatever is appropriate to the situation.
The point being, it does not matter that the official
is there listening. There are occasions in these meetings
when you'll want to get realigned with your client.
Don't hesitate to create the space you need.
Threats and Ultimatums Or Not
It's not usually
necessary to float threats and ultimatums to get what
you want. But on the occasion when you need it, it's a
powerful option to have. Floating threats and ultimatums
is also something most women don't feel comfortable doing,
something most women are, in fact, raised not to do -
precisely because it is so powerful. So it takes practice
to learn how to do it smoothly, comfortably, and as a
matter of routine. It's a backup tool you always want
to have on hand. Floating threats in a friendly tone is
one of advocacy's highest, most effective, and most versatile
It's a good
idea to have a brief discussion with your client about
what you and she want to do next if the official doesn't
agree to the goals - and whether it's a next step you
want to float in the meeting or not. Would she want to
go further up the ranks? Go to the press? Write letters?
Go to the city council? the Court house steps? or would
she simply want to drop it at that point? etc. And then
discuss the words you'd use to do it, and ask if it feels
right to her. If it does not, don't do it.
Before the Meeting
of the preparation we've discussed so far can be done
between you and the victim, and often can be done over
the phone. But at some point, it's crucial that everyone
on the victim's team meet in person before going into
the official meeting. The very best, timesaving way to
do this is for everyone to meet an hour before the scheduled
meeting in a coffee shop near the location of the scheduled
main purpose of this pre-meeting is to get everyone comfortable
and focused together. Go over the main points. Ask each
other last minute questions. Join your forces and focus.
Put all personal concerns aside. Remind the victim that
this is not about the injustices of what the perpetrator
did to her, it's to correct the injustices of the mishandling
of the case.
last minute focus should be on clearly setting the tone.
Get everyone to think friendly, professional, focused
and firm. Remind yourselves that you're not asking for
favors. You're advocating for the women's rights. There's
nothing that takes precedence over a woman's safety in
the community. There is no excuse for your public officials
to shortchange women's rights to protection and justice.
Invaluable, if not crucial, to Have Someone with You Who
Can Focus on Taking Notes.
in the meeting should have a pen and small notebook ready
in hand during the meeting. Ideally, however, the victim
and the advocate should be primarily focused on the interactions
with the official, and not on taking notes. Nonetheless,
there are key things that you, the advocate, should be
alert to taking down: namely, preposterous and incorrect
rationales given by the official, points of evidence,
and details of commitments. If you don't get those points
fully written down during the meeting, make sure you take
a few moments immediately after the meeting to flesh out
your notes on those points.
very best situation is if you have a support person in
the meeting who can take a good set of more general notes
throughout the meeting. When you have someone in the meeting
taking notes - no matter how knowledgeably or effectively
- it prevents 90% of officials' tendencies to put forth
their preposterous legal inventions and deceptions that
are so common in the law enforcement culture. When someone
is taking notes, it cuts much of the bluff and bluster.
It puts the official on notice that their words might
come back to bite them.
notes also makes it much less likely that officials will
make promises in the meeting that they really don't intend
notes immediately informs the official that the purpose
of the meeting is not to pacify the victim. It's serious.
It's business. And it's goal oriented.
support person who sits in the background of the meeting
taking notes can be one of your most potent allies in
the meeting. Aside from a friendly greeting introducing
herself as a friend of the victim, she doesn't have to
say a word. In fact, it can even add to her potency, the
less she says. The other approach, of course, is if the
victim does have someone of stature in the community who
is willing to serve as her support person. Having a professor,
employer, minister, etc. who comes into the meeting taking
notes and asking a question now and then can up the potency
another notch yet.
Friendly, Be Professional, Be Focused. Be Unshakable.
Be Goal Oriented.
doesn't mean no small talk. In fact, an ease of moving
in and out of some small talk is often the lubrication
for getting what you want out of the more difficult, adversarial
parts of the meeting. But be very alert that the official
doesn't take the meeting or the victim off track with
diversionary side trips. A good general rule to lay out
before the meeting is 15% small talk, 85% business, and
an agreement to help each other stick to it.
one other thing. Slow down and take your time. There's
is always a certain level of anxiety in these meetings,
even for the most experienced. Be mindful of time so that
the clock doesn't run out. But take time to breathe, listen,
and center your thoughts.
Rearticulate All Commitments and then Summarize Commitments
Out Loud at the End of the Meeting
repeat back all commitments in all their details, both
as you go along in the meeting, and again at the end of
the meeting. Say things like, "So just to make sure
I got it right, you're going to ............Is that right?"
Do the same with a full summary of commitments at the
end of the meeting. Also, at the end of the meeting, make
sure everyone has each other's full contact information.
with Your Team After the Meeting
perceptions about what happened in a meeting can vary
greatly. Even the most experienced advocate can miss vital
points as you focus on other vital points. Also, during
meetings, loose ends of feelings and thoughts are often
left hanging. And so too are incipient ideas about what
to do next. So always plan on spending some time after
the meeting talking it all over. Fleshing out your notes.
Bolstering your client. Setting follow-up communications.
And congratulating yourselves on a job well done for women's