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to Write an Effective Letter
to Make the System Work for You
fail to respond properly to violence against women and children,
victims and their supporters need a simple, effective means
to push officials to do the job right. The most effective,
everyday tool we've used over the years is a short, concise
letter, fueled by strong c: list at the end of the letter,
and by a couple other key ingredients. If a phone call or
two hasn't gotten the system to quickly correct its response
to your case, putting together your own letter may be just
the remedy you need.
You may doubt
that a simple letter can do the job. Or you may feel intimidated
just by the thought of writing a letter. But stick with
it. We're going to give you an easy-to-follow letter formula.
It's a formula that we've used hundreds of times to make
officials take notice and to quickly correct their responses
to women's cases. It's also a formula that you can adapt
for many different needs; whether you need to push to get
your case fully investigated, or reinvestigated, or to stop
an official's abusiveness, or to press a district attorney
to file proper charges, or to get bad custody decisions
reversed, to get your questions answered, or just to adjust
an official's attitude.
As with all remedies,
you should remember there are no guarantees that it will
work 100%, and you need to consider your own circumstances
in deciding whether this is the right remedy for you. But
if you want reluctant officials to make rapid improvements
in your case, we have found these letters to be highly effective.
You shouldn't be shy about taking this action and making
officials respond properly to you. Another thing to remember
is to always adapt the recommendations we give below to
meet your specific needs.
We start with
a sample letter that we'll use to illustrate the steps that
follow for writing your own letter.
(This letter is fictitious.)
October 5, 2005
Dear Police Chief
I am the victim
in the rape case against Daniel Jones which I reported to
your department on September 10, 2005. I am writing to express
my concerns about the way my case has been handled so far,
and to ask your help in resolving these problems as soon
Three weeks ago,
Detective Rich was assigned to my rape case. Detective Rich
interviewed me on September 15. And he hasn't talked to
me since. I have called Detective Rich and left messages
on his phone three times in the last two weeks. He has never
called me back.
in the first phone message that I left the detective two
weeks ago, I gave the detective the full names and phone
numbers of two witnesses who saw me with my clothes torn
after the rape. During the interview, the detective had
asked me to get this information for him. When I talked
to these witnesses yesterday, they both said the detective
hadn't contacted them yet. These are just some of the concerns
I am very upset
that the detective hasn't returned my phone calls and that
he hasn't interviewed important witnesses in my rape case.
The rapist told me he would make me sorry if I called the
police. But I trusted that police would treat the rape and
my safety seriously. And now I am living in more fear than
Please look into
this and call me as soon as possible. I would like to talk
with you right after you receive this letter. I can be reached
at my work during normal business hours at 666-3150, and
at my home at 777-2211.
I am also requesting
that you immediately assign another detective to my case,
and that this new detective quickly carry out a complete
investigation of the case. And I'm asking that you please
instruct the new detective to keep me informed of the investigation
and to return my phone calls within 24 hours.
I'm sure you
agree this needs to be corrected without delay. I'm sure
that as chief of police, you want to assure that I am safe
and that all women in the community are safe from rapists
like Daniel Jones.
Thank you for
c: Mayor Tony
Perez and Santa Rita City Council Members
Chair Linda Rogers and Santa Rita Domestic Violence
Mary Martinez, Director, Santa Rita Rape Crisis Center
District Attorney Martha Wilson
Martin Brown, California Police Chiefs Association
Other Community Members
Steps to Writing Your Letter
1. The c: list, the Dynamite at the End of the Letter
at the end of the letter with the c: list because you may
still have doubts that a simple letter can really make a difference.
It's usually the c: list, which is placed below your signature,
that gives your letter the punch it needs to make the system
move. The c: stands for "copies". So the c: list
is a list of all the other persons to whom you are sending
a copy of the letter. This list will likely make the difference
between a letter that gets ignored or thrown away, and a letter
that will get the results you want.
Look at the bottom
of the sample letter to see how a typical c: list appears.
Because of the c: list in this letter, the police chief
to whom the letter is addressed, will see immediately that
a lot of other powerful people are reading the same letter
as he is, and he'll know that they are now also fully informed
of your complaint. The c: list virtually puts these powerful
people in the same room with the chief, reading your letter
over his shoulder.
The c: list works
because it lets the the chief know that you are not afraid
to make your complaint public. You are no longer just a
lowly victim voicing your complaint in isolation. You've
brought the DA, the mayor, the attorney general, women's
advocates, and a host of other powerful people into the
room with you - and all eyes are on the chief.
How to Put
Together the C: List for Your Letter:
is a list of the kinds of people you can consider including
in your letter's cc list. Naturally, you don't have to include
them all, or you may think of others we haven' listed here.
Don't get overwhelmed thinking about creating your own list.
It doesn't take long to put the names and addresses of all
these people together. They're high profile people, so the
correct spelling of their names and their addresses are
just a phone call away. Or, these days, you can easily gather
all this information at one sitting on the Internet.
Your c: list
Officials - e.g., the mayor, city council members, the district
attorney, judges, etc.,
and Groups - e.g., women's rights organizations, a local
journalist who covers the police beat, a prominent clergy
person, other high profile leaders
State and National
Officials - e.g., the State Police Chiefs Association, State
District Attorney's Association
Members" - We usually write in "Other Community
Members" at the bottom of our c: list because this
lets the official know we're willing to distribute the letter
far beyond the initial list, especially if the official
doesn't take care of business quickly.
- Including "The Press" on your c: list requires
a little more consideration. Criminal justice officials
are notoriously uncomfortable about being criticized in
the press. So indicating your willingness to go to the press
can exert a lot of pressure. On the other hand, if you're
not certain that you're really willing to go to the press,
or, if it's not certain that the press will actually do
anything even if you do, then it's probably better to leave
this item off your list.
Be Creative -
Think of other people who are relevant to your case - anyone,
from neighbors who care about you, to school principals,
to public officials.
A Couple Things to Keep in Mind as You Sit Down to Write
Don't be Intimidated:
Violence against women and children is extremely harmful
and dangerous to you and to the community. It's crucial
for everyone that officials respond properly to your case.
You have rights. These public officials work for you. And
they have obligations to you. You have a right to protection,
justice, and respect. And you have a right to complain loudly
when officials don't work hard to give you these things.
Don't be shy!
Your letter doesn't have to be perfect! Don't agonize over
phrases. If you find yourself getting stuck obsessing over
one part of the letter or another, it's time to call in
a friend to sit beside you and help.
Keep it Short:
A short letter is easier to write, and just as important,
a short letter will get read. A one page letter is the best.
Since no one can fit their whole story on one page, what
you have to do is pick the two or three most important points,
and then indicate in the letter that there is more to tell.
This was done in the sample letter just by saying, "These
are just some of the concerns I have". If you have
trouble figuring out which are the most important points,
get a friend to sit beside you and help you write the letter.
to a Minimum: This can be very difficult for victims
of violence, especially if you've been additionally victimized
by the authorities. Keep in mind that the purpose of the
letter is not to vent your emotions. The purpose is to get
improvements in the way your case is being handled. At the
same time, your letter shouldn't be emotionless, either.
Again, turn to a friend if you aren't sure about what's
too much or too little. But most of all, remember, it doesn't
have to be perfect.
Get Help from
a Friend: A friend can help you in a lot of ways. They
can sit beside you to help write the letter. Sometimes all
it takes is for them to just sit in the same room with you
to keep you focused as you write. Or, they can help by reading
the letter after you've finished. And some friends may want
to sign the letter with you, too, a variation we'll describe
Confidentiality if You Wish: If you don't want to make
your name public to the people in your c: list, here's what
to do. In the copies of the letter that you send out to
the people on the c: list, simply black out your name, your
phone number, and any other personal information that would
make you identifiable.
Writing the Body of the Letter
* In General,
Address Your Letter to the Highest Person in Charge of Dealing
with Your Problem. For example, if a police officer mishandled
your case, address your letter to the police chief. If you're
having problems in the courtroom, address your letter to the
judge. If the prosecutor (deputy district attorney or assistant
district attorney) is the problem, address your letter to
the district attorney.
* The First
Paragraph Should Be a Quick Summary of Who You Are, Why
You're Writing, and What You Want. The first paragraph
in the Sample Letter is a typical first paragraph that you
can easily adapt to your own situation.
Here's a couple
If you're an
victim advocate writing on behalf of your client, here's
a first paragraph we use time and again.
on behalf of our client, Jane Doe, in regard to her rape
case that was reported to your department on June 10,
2005. We're writing to express our concerns with how the
case has been handled, and to ask your immediate help
in getting corrections made.
Or, if two or
three supporters are writing the letter with you and will
be signing the letter with you, start the letter by writing:
along with Jane Doe to express our concerns about...
* The Second
and Third Paragraph - Summarize the History of the Problem
and Your Complaint. This is where many victims have
trouble condensing down what may be a very long, difficult
story. And, in fact, you may actually need more than two
paragraphs to do it. One thought that might help you keep
it as short as possible is to remind yourself again that
the purpose of the letter isn't so much to tell your story,
nor to go into detail about what the perpetrator did to
you. The purpose of your letter is to protest a problem
you have with officials who are mishandling your case. So
you only have tell enough of your story so that those who
read your letter can understand the context of your complaint
If you still
have trouble putting this section together, take a separate
piece of paper and make a list - not a discussion, make
a list - of all the things you feel officials did wrong
in handling your case. Take your time doing it. Then pick
the three most serious points on your list and build your
letter paragraphs on these three points.
And don't forget
to include a sentence in your letter to indicate that you
have more to tell. Remember this sentence in the sample
letter. "These are just some of the concerns I have."
Note to Advocates:
Sadly, many advocates hesitate to write letters for
their clients because they feel they can't be 100% certain
that their clients are telling them the truth about how
the case is being mishandled. The fact is, you're never
going to be 100% certain that your client is telling you
the truth. But that should never be an excuse not to advocate
vigorously for your client. So here's how to advocate vigorously
within the framework that you can never be 100% sure of
As you tell your
client's story, just use introductory phrases such as, "According
to the victim,...." or "The victim says...",
etc., and you'll never go wrong.
* Fourth Paragraph
- Explain the Harmful Consequences You've Suffered Because
of the Mishandling of Your Case. This is a good place
to express some of your emotions and fears as is done in
the sample letter..
* Fifth and
Sixth Paragraph - Be Very Clear about What You Want, and
When You Want It. You would be amazed how often people
write very good letters expressing their complaint, and
then they forget to write this most important part of the
letter - spelling out exactly what you want, and when you
want it. Saying exactly what you want and when you want
it does not always mean you'll get it 100%. But it does
mean that you have set the bar against which the chief and
everyone who reads the letter will measure the chief's response.
So be sure and
say exactly what you want and when you want it. Don't forget
to include complete information about how to contact you.
Paragraph: it Is Very Appropriate to Remind the Official
That He or She Has Obligations to Provide Safety and Justice
to You and the Community. Don't hesitate to say it in
your own words.
Your Signature and Signature Options:
ok if you are the only person that signs your letter. However,
like a cc list, having other people sign the letter with
you can add to the power of your letter, even if it's just
a friend who signs with you.
So here's what
the signature section of your letter would look like if
there are others who will be signing with you. Then they
would simply sign over their name.
Before Sending Your Letter, Double Check!
forgets' may seem obvious. But when you're under stress, it's
very easy to forget things that are obvious. So after you've
written your letter go over this Double Check List just to
make sure you've covered them all.
- To make
sure that you've dated your letter,
- To make
sure you've included your contact information,
- To make
sure you've typed the c: list at the end
of the letter,
- To send
a copy of your letter to everyone on the
- To make
extra copies of your letter for yourself.
through! If, for example, the chief doesn't get back to you
in a couple days as the letter requests, then it's time for
you to make the call to the chief. And if your call doesn't
get a response, then go to one of the people on the c: list.
In the case of the sample letter, a good first person to go
to would be the mayor or one of the city council members.
But in all likelihood,
that won't be necessary. In our experience, letters that
follow this form get a very fast response from even the
most stubborn officials.
* * If you need help putting your letter together, and if you do not live in Sonoma County, go to Expert Help for Women.