to Help Index
for Social Workers, Counselors, Health Workers, Teachers,
Clergy, and Others Helping Victims of Rape, Domestic Violence,
and Child Abuse
As a social worker,
counselor, teacher, clergy, or health worker, even if you
have no formal training on violence against women and children,
you're in an excellent position to help your client break
free of the violence. Caring, common sense, and a couple
of tips, combined with the professional skills you already
have, are all you need. Moreover, you can do this without
expending inordinate amounts of time and energy.
One of the reasons
your role is so vital is that the agencies and individuals
your clients will be dealing with generally have fragmented
responsibilities. Most likely no one individual will be
overseeing the big picture. So even if the only thing you
do is monitor your client's case and make sure she doesn't
fall through the cracks, you can save her life literally
your role is pivotal is that although most individuals in
the system will be helpful to your client, there are still
a significant number who are hostile to these cases. It
only takes one such hostile official to bump your client
out of the system and back into isolation and despair. It's
in encounters with these individuals, that quick intervention
on your part will make all the difference in the world.
The following outline should help you guide and monitor
your client through her ordeal and up and out of the violence.
It is designed for use both as a workshop outline and as
a guide you can consult with individual clients. And just
so you yourself don't get discouraged, keep in mind that
much of what we've written here takes longer to read than
to actually do.
this guide is created as an overview, not every item will
necessarily apply to your client. It's also certain there
will be measures we've left out. As always, the unique circumstances
of your client and your own professional instincts will
be your most accurate guide of all.
Your Client to Professional Help
Prioritize Your Clients Fears, Dangers, and Needs: You've
probably already noticed that victims of violence against
women are often so frantic and frightened they can't focus.
Help your client prioritize which needs have to be dealt
with immediately, and which can be temporarily left until
later. Throughout the discussion, ask your client detailed
questions about her fears and about specific threats that
have been made by the perpetrator. Treat these fears and
threats very seriously.
A core feature
of violence against women is the near certainty that as
the victim attempts to liberate herself, the perpetrator
will take ever escalating steps to pin the victim back under
his control - and he will continue to do so until enough
power of the system is marshaled to stop him.
It's her fears
of escalating violence and retaliations, usually more than
anything else, that keeps the victim pinned in place. These
fears frequently paralyze victims again and again during
their efforts to escape. And the victim is right. The dangers
are very real, and her situation will, in fact, get more
dangerous as she attempts to free herself. The perpetrator
will attempt to do whatever it takes to defeat her. (As
just one indication of the validity of her fears, the majority
of domestic violence homicides occur as the victim is attempting
to leave.) The near certainty of escalating dangers is often
the most significant, and unfortunately the most frequently
overlooked, answer to the perennial question "why doesn't
she just leave".
As such, a critical
first step for you is to identify, validate, and address
the heightened dangers your client will face. Effectively
blocking the perpetrator's ability to continue his control
over your client should be uppermost in determining the
referrals you give to your client. Naturally referrals to
law enforcement are primary. But the individual circumstances
of your client's case may also require help from housing
authorities, counselors, school officials, family law services,
and more. The key is to adequately assess the dangers in
her path, and then connect her to the people who can eliminate
the dangers. Then she'll be able to focus on all the rest.
For an easy to use assessment tool to help you evaluate
and prioritize the full range of your client's needs, see
"Tips for Talking
with a Friend". This can be found on our web site
or in our booklet, Tips for Helping a Friend.
Referrals: Because of the dangers and intense anxieties
experienced by victims of violence against women, most victims
find it extremely difficult to make that first cold call
to an unknown agency. Simply handing a woman a referral
card will most likely fail to get her connected to the services
So here are some
suggestions for making referrals that really work:
- One approach
is to ask your client for permission for you to make the
first exploratory phone call to an agency. Get permission
from your client for you to give an outline of her situation,
and permission for you to give her contact information
to the service provider.
- Another approach
is to have the victim make the call from your office with
you at her side. Even if you aren't able to immediately
connect with the appropriate person, at the very least,
you will have helped the victim break the ice. You will
have gotten a real name of a real person who she can contact
- If you
refer your client to the police, consider calling
the police yourself and having the police come to your
office to take the report. The police report is going
to be the most important document in your client's case.
Having the police take the report at your workplace is
not only safer and more comfortable for the victim, it's
also good assurance that the officer won't brush off your
client's case or give her short shrift. If you can be
physically present while your client reports to police,
there is no better way to discourage police mishandling
of the case. But even if you can't be physically present,
just having the officer respond to your workplace, meeting
the officer on arrival, and providing the space, is a
good hedge against mistreatment.
a written confidentiality release from your client. Many
officials won't talk with you without a written release
from your client. So be sure and have one ready to fax.
Early on, have your client write you an all-purpose, dated,
signed release. The simpler the better. For example: "To
whom it may concern, I am giving permission for my social
worker, Anna Perez, to talk with anyone about my rape
case in order to help me with the case." That covers
your client early on how to keep a notebook. Better
yet, help her start and organize a notebook. Over the
long course of getting out of a violent situation, she's
going to be barraged by names, case numbers, addresses,
dates, legal terms, charges, and endless lists of things
to do. Writing it all down in one notebook is essential
to putting her in control of the chaos.
Your Client on how to Communicate Effectively with the
System. This may seem a mundane point against the
many urgencies your client is experiencing. But one of
the reasons many victims get brushed aside is because
the systems don't yet generally deal well with the characteristic
communication problems of victims of rape and domestic
- Severe trauma
and real fears frequently lead to a communication style
that is frantic, incoherent, and fragmented. It's invaluable
if you can help your client develop an effective telling
of her story and her needs. Though officials and advocates
should understand how to handle this difficulty, many
simply turn off to the victim, judge her to be crazy,
and one way or the other try to get rid of her. The criminal
justice system is particularly intolerant of what they
judge to be 'hysterical females'. For obvious reasons,
once a victim senses this contempt and intolerance from
the people she expects to help her, it makes her even
more frantic, and a vicious circle ensues. Explain
this dynamic to your client. Give her a few tips on how
to express the intensity of her situation without losing
control of the communication.
- Educate your
client to the different roles of the officials and providers
she'll be dealing with. Helping your client think like
a detective when she's with police, and think like a therapist
when she's with a therapist, will enhance the response
she gets from various professionals. It will also help
move her into an active rather than passive role in her
victims often leave incomplete or incomprehensible telephone
messages. Instruct your client to leave her name and phone
number very slowly, and to leave ample contact information.
Instruct her how to briefly summarize her situation and
her request on a message machine.
- Make sure
your client has a fully functioning and reliable telephone
and message system of her own. The hard reality is
that many agencies will make one try at a return phone
call and that's it. And because victims frequently temporarily
lose their phone service or flee their living situation,
make sure your client has, and routinely gives out, a
reliable alternate contact number, the number of someone
with whom she will always be in contact.
on Good Translations.
If your client does not speak English well, she has a
constitutional right to good translations in all her interactions
with public agencies. And it is the obligation of the
public agency to provide the interpreters. It is particularly
critical in cases of rape, domestic violence, and child
abuse that law enforcement never use family members or
acquaintances as interpreters for the victim. For a more
detailed discussion see "Special
for Immigrant Women" on our web site at www.justicewomen.com
or in our bilingual booklet of the same title.
your client brainstorm and build a support system
In most cases
it's going to take your client many months to unravel the
abusive relationship and rebuild a new life. Violence against
women and children is not a violent incident, or even a
series of violent incidents. Violence against women is most
often a violent regime in which the victim is trapped, double
trapped, and triple trapped. It is a totalitarian system
of violence that has ensnared every aspect of her life.
She's going to need lots of help from lots of different
people over an extended period of time.
The dilemma is
that right at the time she needs copious help from others,
she's likely to be in a state of acute or chronic isolation.
It's almost certain the perpetrator has poisoned key relationships
in her life, and will continue to do so at any opportunity.
And even if he hasn't done so directly, because he is violent,
many of her associates will be afraid or reluctant to side
with her, again right at the time she most needs support.
By the time she talks with you, your client has probably
already suffered the additional trauma of people pulling
If your client
is like many victims of violence against women, her response
to the question of who can help her will often be "nobody".
And that's where you come in. As a community professional
you have immense sway in bringing others around to support
with your client a list of people who might help with any
one of a number of tasks: such as accompaniment to appointments,
an afternoon of childcare, transportation, a person to call
when she needs to talk, a person to help her with paperwork,
someone to help her get information, a place to stay for
a night when she's scared, etc.
Explain to your
client that her support people don't necessarily have to
be people she knows well. And they don't have to be experienced
with violence against women. Explain to her that she doesn't
have to tell them everything in order to ask for help. Have
her mentally scan her constellation of neighbors, coworkers,
her kids' teachers, church members, family and extended
family, for anyone in her social contact who is smart and
caring. Keep going until you get a starter list of four
or five people.
the first contact for your client. Victims of violence
against women are often so beaten down, the thought of reaching
out and asking others for help is downright terrifying.
In addition, many good people still harbor prejudices and
misconceptions about violence against women. At least at
the beginning, consider making the initial contact with
potential support persons yourself.
standing and your willingness to educate will in all likelihood
generate a "yes" from the same person who would
have initially given a "no" to the same request
from your client. In our experience, when private individuals
are asked by a professional like yourself to help in a case
of domestic violence or rape, they are flattered, they take
the request very seriously, they follow-up, and they rarely,
if ever, say no.
The five or ten
minutes that you spend on the phone with a potential support
person will come back to your client a hundred fold. In
addition, the five or ten minutes you spend on the phone
with a support person will come back to you a hundred fold.
With a little guidance and attention from you, these individuals
often become your right hand in dealing with the client.
They save you immense amounts of time as the client begins
to lean on others for all kinds of things. They buoy the
client's spirit and will. And once they get close to the
situation, they generally want to get more involved.
So here are a
couple of key tips for successfully engaging support persons
for your client:
- Flatter the
person. Tell them your client has told you they are person
who is very kind, or smart, or whatever good things your
client has told you about the person.
- Be very specific
in what you ask for. Keep the commitment small to begin
with. If the person is going to get involved further,
and they usually do, let them make that decision on their
- Try to anticipate
and prepare the support persons for anticipated problems
- including the victim's emotional problems. Briefly educate
the person on a relevant point or two about violence against
women. Also educate on how to set limits with the client
on what they can and cannot do.
- Tell them
they can call you anytime with questions or concerns.
- From time
to time, pick up the phone to ask them how they're doing
and to thank them.
- Remind your
client of the importance of saying 'thank you'.
One of the
victim's most critical needs is to have someone accompany
her on contacts with the system, especially in the justice
system. Being accompanied by a support person when dealing
with her case is your client's absolute best protection
against all kinds of mishandling of her case at the hands
of others. This applies to meetings with landlords, employers,
school officials and even her family members, as well as
to meetings, interviews, and hearings with officials and
service providers. One reason the presence of a support
person is so critical in cases of violence against women
is because there are still such strong tendencies throughout
our society to find any excuse to blame, ostracize, abandon,
or deny services to the victim.
a support person is so important is that victims of violence
against women are extremely vulnerable to being overwhelmed
by even the most normal affronts of human interaction. A
cold shoulder, a bureaucratic run-around, interruptions,
a chaotic background; any number of usual circumstances
can quickly devastate these already traumatized victims
and cause them to give up and retreat.
Having a support
person at her side prevents most of the worst abuse before
it starts, and provides a needed witness in case it does
start. A support person, in almost every circumstance, gets
a victim much better service even if mistreatment is not
an issue. A support person steadies the victim and improves
the victim's own communication and focus. A support person
helps the victim remember key information and key questions
she wanted to ask. And a support person who is willing to
take notes is worth her weight in gold. Having a support
person at her side also tends to engage the support person
into further helping your client.
All around, there
is just no other way to better improve your client's chances
of getting free of the violence than to help her line up
the people to accompany her. Fortunately, this isn't too
hard to do. Most people, known or unknown to the victim,
are willing to take on this function, especially when it's
explained to them that their presence alone is sufficient.
All they have to do is be there. But most will automatically
client how to best work with a support person who accompanies
her. Because being accompanied by a support person is
so important, its worthwhile not only to help your client
connect, but also to give your client a few tips on how
to work with the support person. Go over common courtesies
such as confirming appointments and arrangements, meeting
early, explaining the purpose of meetings, and always saying,
deal with family and associates who have turned hostile
to the victim. The perpetrators of rape, domestic violence,
and child abuse are almost always very well known to the
victim. The members of her family, work, school, church,
or neighborhood, or whichever social circle are shared by
perpetrator and victim, will feel forced to take sides.
Unfortunately, most will either take sides with the perpetrator,
or will remain silent in defense of the victim. This phenomena
is so common in rape cases, and so devastating to the victim,
that in the literature on rape it's given the name, "the
to understand why the victim's friends and family members
so often side with the perpetrator instead of the victim.
- Siding with
the victims requires that people take a stand against
the perpetrator, in other words, requires that they do
something. Siding with the perpetrator doesn't require
that people do anything. So it's much easier to side with
the perpetrator. Sadly, few people have the courage to
do what even they may know is right.
- Virulent aspects
of sexism and racism surface with a vengeance following
a charge of rape or domestic violence. Sexist and racist
explanations resonate and gather steam often pulling in
powerful male dominated institutions to his side such
as police, church, school and corporate officials. The
sexist and racist explanations also give everyone around
the victim an ample array of excuses to lean toward the
perpetrator and against the victim. Once these forces
gather steam, even a victim's very best friends find it
very difficult to support her.
- She's weak
and he is strong. She's wounded by the trauma of his attack(s),
she's usually younger than him, and she's female with
all the disadvantage of social and economic status that
go with being female. He's feeling strong and he's criminal.
He's willing to lie, bully, manipulate, and retaliate.
He's male and angry. No one wants to be on his wrong side
All of these
forces, alone or in combination, make it very difficult
for even the victim's best friends to support her. Not surprisingly,
as key people in her life pull away, your client loses her
will to struggle. The growing isolation also puts jobs,
housing, and her connections to help at risk. It's critical
to pull as many of these people back to her side as possible.
The good news
is that with many people, this isn't too difficult. Many
know what's right. They just need a little coaxing and support
from you. (Be sure you discuss this with your client and
ask her permission first.) Your supportive conversation
with the victim's friend or family member, your acknowledgment
of the difficulties of the situation, and a little education
on the dynamics of violence against women, serve as a powerful
antidote to the perpetrator's forces of evil. And even those
who do not get completely turned around by your phone call
are often dissuaded from actively supporting the perpetrator
because your presence has served as a countervailing force.
the power you have as a professional voice in the community.
A simple phone call from you will work wonders in stemming
the buildup of hostile reactions to your client in her family
or social circle. And stopping those hostile reactions is
critical to her ability to maintain the struggle.
and Monitor Your Client's Case with Your Client
In the course
of dealing with rape, domestic violence or child abuse,
your client is going to be dealing with a dizzying procession
of criminal justice officials, family court officials, victim
advocates, counselors, and a host of service providers.
None of them are likely to be serving as a case manager,
all of them are likely to be overloaded with similar cases,
and some of them may be outright hostile to these cases.
At the same time, in order for your client to obtain the
essential benefits of these systems it's necessary for her
to stick with the process, to understand the process, and
to feel confident in what happens next and why.
ask your client questions about the status of key aspects
of her case: the criminal case, custody and restraining
orders, housing issues, etc. Ask her what's happened over
the last few days, and what's going to happen in the next
week. Does she know the date of the next hearing? The
purpose? The name of the detective on the case? The kind
of restraining order? The name of the charges against
the perpetrator? Case numbers? The amount of his bail?
client can't answer these and other questions related
to her case, it's a pretty good sign things are not going
well. Officials and service providers should always be
attentive to making sure the victim is informed about
her case. Because, typically, once a victim of violence
against women becomes confused about the process, she
will often become frightened and withdraw.
- If your
client can't answer your questions about the status of
her case, pick up the phone with your client and gather
as much of the needed information as possible. This
should be easy even if you don't know where to start.
Most receptionists in the system, once they have the name
of the perpetrator or victim, can quickly direct you to
the right place. If the people you need to talk with aren't
available, leave complete messages with all your questions.
- After getting
answers to the key questions, you and your client should
then try to figure out why she hasn't been getting the
needed information. Is your client overwhelmed? Are
officials failing to properly inform her? Are certain
officials disinterested or hoping she'll go away? Is your
client keeping information in a notebook?
all cases where a client doesn't know what's going on,
key officials and service providers are not caring and
not connecting with your client in a way that ensures
she's informed. That's another reason to freely pick up
the phone yourself to get information. If nothing else,
it lets the relevant officials or providers know that
someone else cares about what's happening to this victim
and is watching the case.
- Have your
client obtain and duplicate her case documents. Most
important of all, have your client obtain a copy of the
police report. In most all cases of violence against women,
the police report will be the single most important document
throughout her entire case. In California (Cal. Family
Code Section 6288), and in a number of other states, domestic
violence victims have the right to obtain a full copy
of their domestic violence police report(s). (Unfortunately,
rape victims do not have the same right.) There are two
reasons this victim's right was established. First, because
the police report is so critical to her case, and second,
because there are still far too many police officers who
treat these cases badly and who write incomplete or biased
domestic violence police reports. By having your client
obtain and review a copy of her police report at the earliest
possible date, she then has the opportunity to get errors,
biases, and incomplete police work can be corrected.
If the police
report is thorough and well done, not only will it be
the basis of an effective criminal prosecution. A good
police report also has the power to swing the family court
in the victim's favor on such vital issues as restraining
orders, custody, child support, etc. In addition, a good
police report can also swing conflicts to her side in
matters of housing, employment, school, social service,
immigration, and a number of other life essentials that
so often go against a victim as she attempts to escape.
Even if the case does not result in full prosecution,
a good police report can often leverage your client up
and out of the violence.
By the same
token, a bad police report - i.e. a sloppy, biased, incorrect,
or incomplete police report - can (and often will) be
used against your client in every one of the above listed
arenas. Unfortunately, because of the persistent sexism
and racism in law enforcement, defective police reports
in cases of violence against women are still all too common,
no matter how modern the department rhetoric and policies.
- Go over
the police report with your client. List the corrections
and additions that need to be made. Then
call a sergeant at the department in question and get
the corrections and additions written up in a supplement
to the original crime report. Have your client obtain
a copy of the supplemental report. Make sure this supplemental
report is attached to the original and sent to the District
the System Work for Your Client
section is a brief overview of the powers and pitfalls of
the four principal systems your client will be dealing with:
the criminal justice system, the family court system, victim
advocates and services, and child protective services (in
some states called child welfare agencies). There will probably
be other institutions your client will be dealing with such
as social services, housing, schools, churches, etc., but
the tips we lay out here for dealing with the primary systems
can, in general, be applied to dealing with the others.
into detail on these systems individually, here are a couple
of overview notes.
In brief, the current responses of these systems to violence
against women cover the full range from excellent to atrocious
and everything in between, even within an individual agency.
Over the last 30 years, a solid body of law has been put
into place in most states giving these systems immense powers
to protect and liberate victims of violence against women.
But very serious problems remain in the enforcement and
implementation of these laws and powers.
A good working
model to keep in mind as to what you and your client can
expect from these systems (not including victim services
which has a different dynamic) is as follows:
25% of officials
you encounter are likely to be progressive. These officials
have developed competency in cases of violence against women.
They will use their powers effectively to free women from
violence. These are the officials to seek out when trouble
occurs. For example, if a police officer has treated your
client's case poorly and written an inadequate report, don't
resign yourself to accepting it. Simply call a sergeant
or another officer on another shift, and get the report
corrected. These progressive individuals can be found, one
here and one there, in every part of the system. Keep calling
around until you find them. Lean on them, and don't forget
to thank them for what they do.
Another 50% of
officials often need a little prodding, coaxing, and stroking
to do the job right. They also need a hovering awareness
of your ability to kick hard if things aren't done right.
In general, these individuals are governed by varying combinations
of lingering sexism, racism, and bureaucratic laziness.
But with a little attention on your part, they usually can
be moved to do the right thing. It's with these officials
that you can make an immense difference for your client
just by making your presence known with a few simple phone
The final 25%
of officials are not only hostile to these cases to begin
with, they are angry and bitter about the deep changes that
have been made in favor of victims, and most of all about
the role they have been made to take in implementing those
changes. The hardened sexism and racism of these officials
is extremely dangerous to your client. These officials are
quite capable of going out of their way to sabotage your
client and her case.
They will actively
do things like the following: write biased or false reports,
or write no report at all. They will dump evidence, side
with the perpetrator, arrest the victim, lie to you and
the victim, and much more. The dangers these individuals
pose to your client are threefold. First, it only takes
one such individual to completely derail your client's case.
Second, the authority with which these individuals act gives
a green light to the perpetrator who then feels encouraged
to escalate his own abuses against the victim. And third,
when your client feels the power of the system turn against
her, she will naturally be terrified of continuing to seek
help from the system. You and your client need to recognize
these officials quickly and take action to prevent or correct
the immense damage they can do. This is where your quick
intervention can save your client's life.
Neither you nor your client should be intimidated by the
system. Both of you need to feel completely free in dealing
with these systems; free to ask probing questions, free
to speak openly about concerns, and free to go right up
the ranks and to make demands. One of the most important
things you can do for your client is to fortify her understanding
that she has a right to protection and justice. Validate
for her that there are indeed hostile people in the system,
and remind her that there also many excellent officials
who can be found to help her. As for your own role in dealing
with the system, don't underestimate the power and influence
you have as a professional in the community. And don't hesitate
to use it.
Remind your client again and again of the importance of
being accompanied by a support person in dealing with the
The following discussions emphasize what can go wrong with
the system because, of course, that's where your intervention
is most needed. So as you read, don't forget that there
are many officials throughout the system who are willing
to use their powers to help. The immense powers these systems
have to help your client combined with the growing number
of officials who are willing to implement these powers makes
it all the more important that you recognize problems quickly.
That way you can appeal to someone else right away to get
the problems corrected.
Criminal Justice System
justice system has more power than any segment of society
to help victims of violence against women. Once there is
violence or threat of violence, no other system has the
power or authority to launch a criminal investigation, to
put the perpetrator under control, to stop the violence,
or to forcefully intervene to protect the victim. Even the
family court system which can issue all manner of restraining
orders, custody orders, etc., depends on the criminal justice
system to enforce those orders.
You can social
work these cases to death, but unless the violence and threats
of violence are stopped, the perpetrator is just going to
turn around, escalate, and undo any progress the victim
has made. If the criminal justice system response is not
adequate, the perpetrator will, in all likelihood, regain
control of the victim, one way or another.
Tips for guiding
your client through the criminal justice system:
that as the case works its way through the criminal justice
system one or more of the following may happen one or
more times. So stay alert and don't ignore or make excuses
if you sense any of these all too common abuses are occurring.
Quick recognition of these problems is essential to getting
the problems corrected and preventing additional damage
to your client's case. (Note that all of these abuses
have one thing in common. Their aim is to make the victim
and her case go away or to be quickly disposed):
attitudes of officials, incomplete reports, biased
reports, incomplete investigations, failure to write
reports, failure to gather evidence or to document
all the evidence, skimpy victim interview, failure
to interview witnesses, biased interviews of witnesses,
failure to arrest the perpetrator, cold shoulder to
the victim, blaming the victim, interrogating the
victim, disregarding victim safety, arresting the
victim, misinforming her about her rights, failure
to return or delay in returning victim's phone calls,
failure to adequately inform her of what happens next,
passively allowing her to fall through the cracks,
lying to her that there's not enough evidence, attempting
to separate the victim from her advocates and support
persons, failure to provide adequate translation,
failure to file charges despite adequate evidence,
undercharging the case, dissuading the victim from
testifying, scaring the victim with possible defense
tactics, withholding evidence, giveaway plea bargains,
careless sentencing, etc., etc., etc.
- Listen carefully
to your own and your client's intuition about how her
case is going. Despite unfamiliar legal terms, criminal
justice investigations and procedures are mostly common
sense. So trust your own and your client's intuition about
the quality of officials' responses. If your client senses
that things aren't going well, they're probably not going
- Remind your
client often of the importance of having someone accompany
her in all contacts and proceedings in the criminal justice
system. Remind her this is her best protection against
and prevention of mishandling of her case.
- Track the
criminal case with your client; from police, to the District
Attorney's office, through the courts, and into the probation
department. Don't hesitate to pick up the phone regularly
and ask questions until you get answers that satisfy you.
Make sure your client knows the names and roles of each
official along the way, and the purpose of each step in
- In cases of
domestic violence, have your client obtain a copy of the
police report. (California Family Code 6228 gives all
domestic violence victims the right to obtain a complete
copy of the police report from police or from the District
Attorney's office.) Keep in mind that the police report
is the single most important document in her case. It's
crucial the victim knows what's in and what's not in the
report so corrections and additions can be made. It's
very beneficial if you and your client go over the police
- Don't hesitate
a moment to pick up the phone and call criminal justice
officials with your questions and concerns. If nothing
else, this lets officials know the victim is not alone.
And if things don't get cleared up quickly following your
phone call, immediately go up the ranks. By quickly going
up the ranks you can often get things corrected before
problems get cemented into place. If you wait, the ranking
officials will have an increasing tendency to cover up
for their subordinates mistakes.
- If your phone
calls don't set things right, put your complaint in writing.
There is simply nothing more effective in making this
system work right than a letter to the big boss. A short
two or three paragraph letter from you to the chief will
move the mountain in all but the most intractable situations.
And best of all, if you remember to put a cc list at the
bottom to the mayor, city council, DA, and other high
powered officials you will get action.
- Enter evidence
into the case yourself. If all else fails, don't hesitate
to have your client gather written witness statements,
medical documents, photos of injuries, or other physical
evidence and enter it into the case herself. Simply take
the evidence over to the police station or to the district
attorney's office and request that the evidence be added
to the case file. Remember, it's always best if you can
find an official who will do the job right.
- Document your
own interaction with your client. Your documentation as
a professional in the community can serve as powerful
evidence in the case. Offer your documentation to the
officials on the criminal justice case.
- Don't underestimate
your power and influence as a professional member of the
community. Use this power and influence freely.
Family Court System
The family court
system adjudicates divorces, restraining orders, custody
disputes, child support, and other family matters. The premises
and structure of the family court system puts victims of
domestic violence and intra-familial sexual assault at a
huge disadvantage from the start.
In the criminal
system the immense powers of the state are pitted against
the accused. The state, when functioning properly, takes
full responsibility for investigating and pursuing the case
against the accused. In the family court system, cases consist
of one private individual's complaint against another private
individual. In family court, unless she hires a lawyer,
the burden of preparing the case rests on the victim. Also,
in family court, the two parties are considered to be equals
who have come into conflict over shared interests. This
too is a disastrous presumption for the victim who, in reality,
is subjugated to the other party's violence and threats.
family court has no real power over the violent party other
than to issue orders, such as restraining orders or orders
of custody. Ultimate enforcement of these orders depends
on the criminal justice system. Furthermore, family court
rulings are based on a preponderance of the evidence in
contrast to the more rigorous 'beyond a reasonable doubt'
standard in criminal cases. As a consequence, family court
rulings are subject to more arbitrary decision making where
officials' biases come much more easily into play. Such
things as the fact that the man generally has a job, a lawyer,
and stability, while the victim of domestic violence does
not, can too often sway things to the man's favor in family
court. In addition, different from criminal court, in family
court it's very easy for the perpetrator to turn around
and make accusations against the victim, accusations against
which she must then build a defense.
In short, the
family court system is often like quicksand for victims
of violence against women. The more she struggles, the more
she can become mired in mandated mediation sessions, psych
evaluations, and a maze of other no-win entanglements with
Tips for guiding
your client through the family court system:
- There is one
key for prevailing in family court and that is to remember
that the criminal case generally trumps the family case.
If the family court is made aware that there are criminal
charges against the defendant or even that a criminal
investigation has been opened by police, the family court
will almost always swing more to your client's favor.
The problem is most family courts are not automatically
informed of the criminal case even if a criminal case
on the same family is simultaneously underway in the courtroom
down the hall.
your client has become entangled in a family court battle
with her batterer, focus on the criminal case and make
sure the criminal case is strong. Have your client inform
the family court of the criminal case. And have her bring
the principal documents from the criminal case into the
family court case. For many reasons, these documents from
the criminal case can often quickly wrap up the family
court case in your client's favor.
the police report and criminal justice print outs of charges
filed against the perpetrator should be photocopied and
put in front of the family court judge. This is just one
more reason it is so critical that the police report be
- If for whatever
reason your client does not have a criminal case underway,
have her consider opening one by reporting to the police.
(Remember, a victim has at least one year after a domestic
violence incident and seven years after a rape when she
can report to police.)
If your client
cannot be persuaded to report to the police, or if the ongoing
criminal case is irreparably biased against her, and she's
mired in a family court battle, here's what to do:
- The first
step is to see if your client can obtain a family attorney
to represent her. As you can imagine, hiring a lawyer
is a financial impossibility for 99% of victims. Another
possibility for obtaining a lawyer is for you to get on
the phone and try to beg a lawyer to take the case pro
bono. This too is akin to finding a needle in a haystack,
though not impossible. One other possibility is to check
with your local domestic violence shelter to see if they
retain a family attorney for domestic violence clients.
The trouble with this latter suggestion is that this attorney
is likely to be buried in cases, and at the very best
you'll only be able to get her to take a piece of your
client's case. Nonetheless, even this partial help will
be worth the call.
- If your client
cannot obtain a family attorney to represent her, she
will have to work the case herself. What this usually
means is that she needs to gather evidence and statements
from others that will support her own position and refute
her partner's accusations in family court. So first, the
victim must be knowledgeable about exactly which issues
are before the court. Is the court debating custody? Visitation?
Restraining orders? What is the perpetrator's main argument?
What are his accusations against her? How is she going
to counter those arguments? And then she must stay on
top of the family court process step by step, hearing
by hearing, and document by document.
can imagine, having to figure this all out is seriously
overwhelming to a victim. The bottom line is that in almost
all family law disputes where the victim doesn't have
the benefit of a solid criminal case, the victim is going
to have to do her own case.
- If your client
loses in family court, for example, if family court gives
custody of her children to the perpetrator, your client
is likely to be devastated. Unfortunately, this kind of
thing happens far too often because the perpetrator can
easily manipulate the family court process. If this happens
to your client, it's very important to remind her that
family court has one important advantage. In family court,
nothing is ever permanent. She can go back in at a later
date and have the court revisit the question.
to remind your client is that perpetrators don't stop perpetrating,
especially if they have not been brought to justice. So
she should stay aware and watch for his next mistake.
Advocates and Victim Services
are theoretically on the victim's side, to inform her of
her rights, inform her of available services, advocate for
her with the other services, accompany her to court, help
her connect to other services, listen carefully to her concerns,
and protest when her rights are violated. In almost all
cases, you'll find that victim advocates are, indeed, very
sympathetic to your client and willing to help her.
there are serious problems you and your client should be
aware of in dealing with the current status of victim advocacy
and services in the United States.
Tips for guiding
your client through advocacy services:
- Most victim
advocates exist in serious conflict of interest with the
criminal justice system. The criminal justice system has
gotten more and more control over victim advocates because
in most areas criminal justice officials have increasing
controls over advocates' core funding. Most domestic violence
shelters and rape crisis centers must obtain the signatures
of approval from local police chiefs and DA's on their
annual requests for renewal of their violence against
women grants. What this means for your client is that
very few victim advocates will be willing to rock the
boat in the criminal justice system on behalf of your
- Many victim
advocate services have become increasingly bureaucratized
and fragmented. This is especially the case with domestic
violence services. Instead of one victim advocate being
assigned to a victim for the duration of the case, increasingly
victims are moved from one victim advocate to another
as she goes through the system. She may start with a telephone
advocate (who is generally a volunteer with very little
experience beyond giving telephone advice), then to a
shelter advocate, then to a restraining order advocate,
a police department advocate, a district attorney advocate,
and a crime compensation advocate. This fragmentation
of advocacy often leaves the victim so confused she doesn't
know who's who (and neither does the advocate).
- Most victim
advocates have only 40 hours of formal training. This
was fine 30 years ago, but today there is a huge body
of law, procedure, research and study dealing with violence
against women. This is exacerbated by the fact that victim
advocates' pay scales are very low and caseloads are large.
Both these factors lead to high staff turnover, which
means there are many inexperienced persons working as
- Make your
client aware of the limitations of victim advocates. As
with all the other systems she deals with, your client
needs to stay alert to the possibility of misinformation.
- If your client
finds a good advocate, have your client maintain communication
with that advocate, even if her case has been moved to
another advocate. It also helps immensely if you yourself
also establish communication with this advocate.
services (CPS), like family court, is quicksand for victims
of violence against women. Always keep in mind, child protective
services have only one power and that is the power to remove
children from the home and to make the children wards of
the state. Child protective services cannot do criminal
investigations, cannot bring a case against a perpetrator,
have no power of arrest, nor can child protective services
bring charges against a perpetrator. It's worth repeating,
child protective services have only one power and that is
the power to remove a child from the home. Moreover, they
are authorized to do so on a very low level of evidence.
So if your client
is a victim of domestic violence and she tells you her child
was abused by the father and then you report to CPS, there
is only one thing CPS will do. They will open an investigation
to determine if the child should be removed from the home.
All too often, they will begin investigating your client
to determine if your client did or did not protect the child
from the abuser. And all too often, because your client
is a victim of domestic violence, the answer will be no,
your client did not (could not) protect the child from the
abuser. This will have the all too frequent disastrous result
that CPS will take the child from your client. Civil rights
attorneys in New York have recently successfully sued their
state's child welfare services on behalf of domestic violence
victims for these horrendous practices. But unfortunately
the practice goes on with impunity in most other states,
including in our state of California.
- If you are
a mandated reporter of child abuse you have the choice
of reporting to Child Protective Services or of reporting
directly and only to the police. When you report to police
instead of reporting to CPS, the police will open a criminal
investigation against the accused. And though police also
have the power of removing a child from the home, they
rarely if ever do so. The person police are most likely
to remove from the home is the perpetrator, as it should
be. In our opinion, you serve your violence against women
clients best by never reporting to Child Protective Services.
And by reporting all your child abuse cases to police
and Exercise Your Client's Rights
|Most states in
the U.S. have passed a significant body of victims' rights
law. The following is a list of some of the key victim's rights
law in California. For a more complete discussion of these
and other victims' rights, and what to do when these rights
are violated, see "Know
Your Rights" on our web site at www.justicewomen.com.
Police MUST write
a domestic violence report on all domestic related cases.
Code Section 13730)
victims have a right to obtain a full copy of the police
crime report on her case. (Family
Code Section 6228)
victims have a right to be accompanied by an advocate and
support person of her choice at all points in the criminal
justice process, including in all meetings and interviews
with police and prosecutors. (Penal
Code Section 679.04)
Police MUST make
an arrest on all domestic violence restraining order violations
where there is probable cause the violation occurred. The
statement of a credible victim, by itself, is sufficient
for probable cause. (Penal
Code Section 836(c)(1))
inform victims of felony violence of any plea bargain the
prosecutor intends to offer the defendant. (Penal
Code Section 679.02(a)(12))
People who don't
speak English have a constitutional right to interpretation
sufficient to provide them equal access to and services
from all public services. Public services such as police,
district attorneys, probation departments must provide the
Amendment - Right to Equal Protection of the Laws)
Written Materials for Your Client at www.justicewomen.com
On our web site
you'll find over 80 full text, paired English/Spanish documents
you can download for your clients. The texts are presented
in an easy to read, step-by-step format. They cover such
topics as Tips
for Rape Victims, Tips
for Domestic Violence Victims, Tips
for Immigrant Women, Tips
for Testifying, Tips
for Helping a Friend, Teaching
Rights, and much, much more.
guides, or call us for the bilingual booklets of the same