Prosecutors’ Programs Ease Victims’ Anxieties
Final report submitted to NIJ, State and Local Change
and the Violence Against Women Act, Marcia R. Chaiken,
Barbara Boland, Michael D. Maltz, Susan Martin, and Joseph
Tragonski, grant number 98–WT–VX–K013, available
from NCJRS (NCJ 191186).
Solid evidence and the cooperation of witnesses are fundamental
to a successful prosecution. In cases involving violence
against women, these crucial elements are often difficult
to obtain. Researchers investigating State and local responses
to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) found new approaches
implemented by prosecutors in four States (Arizona, Maryland,
Massachusetts, and Oregon) that both led to increased punishment
of offenders who victimized women and eased the strain of
the prosecutorial process for the victims.
New Approaches in Prosecutors’ Offices
Following the passage of VAWA in 1994, several changes
were instituted at the four study sites:
- The court attorney in Maricopa County, Arizona, formed a Family Violence Bureau to prosecute felony domestic
violence, stalking, elder abuse, and child physical abuse.
- The State’s attorney in Wicomico County, Maryland, assigned VAWA-funded assistant attorneys to handle domestic
violence cases in District Court and then in Circuit Court
for felony cases.
- The district attorney of Essex County, Massachusetts, increased the number of bilingual domestic violence
unit advocates in the office.
- The district attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit in Multnomah County, Oregon, which had begun with only
one attorney in 1990, was expanded to include six attorneys,
a legal intern, and six victims’ advocates.
THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), incorporated in
the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,
was intended to bolster the ability of law enforcement
departments, prosecutors, and private nonprofit victim
assistance organizations to enhance services to women
victims of violence, to better assure victim safety, and
to increase offender accountability. The language of VAWA
suggests that these results could be achieved through
three mechanisms: (1) strategic leadership by the Federal
Government to increase coordination among Federal, State,
local, and tribal agencies; (2) Federal funding for policing,
prosecution, and victim services; and (3) statutory changes
allowing for a more active role on the part of U.S. Attorneys
in cases involving violence against women.
After VAWA was enacted, the Federal Government established
a national hotline, a Violence Against Women Office, and
a national Advisory Council on Violence Against Women.
By the end of 2000, grants exceeding $1 billion had been
made to public and private organizations concerned with
violence against women.
Greater Interagency Collaboration
One of the major benefits of VAWA cited by practitioners
interviewed for this study was a dramatic rise in collaboration
and cooperation in addressing domestic violence. In some
instances, task forces and interagency programs that had
been started prior to passage of VAWA were accelerated and
enhanced. In other areas, new ground was broken in bringing
together prosecutors, other criminal justice agencies, social
service providers, victims’ advocates, and victims.
In the four study sites, collaborative efforts included:
- The Maricopa County attorney’s office, together with
more than 100 law enforcement, prosecutorial, judicial,
victim service, and mental health professionals, led the
development of a comprehensive criminal justice protocol
for domestic violence that promoted evidence-based prosecutions.
The county attorney also began a program with the Maricopa
Probation Department to provide special case management
for supervising the offenders prosecuted by the Family Violence
Bureau. In 1999, the county attorney supported the creation
of a Family Advocacy Center in Phoenix, Arizona, with the
active participation of both city and county prosecutors.
The Center, directed by the Phoenix ombudsman, houses representatives
of the police, fire, and human services departments; the
municipal court (which can issue protection orders for victims
onsite using closed-circuit television); three victims’
services agencies; and a sexual assault nurse. It also has
offices set aside for the county attorney’s staff.
The Center includes a state-of-the-art forensic examination
room to support successful evidence-based prosecutions.
- In Maryland, the governor created the Family Violence
Council (FVC). Co-chaired by the lieutenant governor and
the attorney general, FVC held hearings around the State,
set up local councils, and published Stop the Violence:
A Call to Action, which identified 20 initiatives to
enhance the responsiveness to family violence of all parts
of the justice system and community. In 1999, Maryland’s
State’s attorneys, in conjunction with FVC, drafted
a Model State’s Attorney’s Prosecution Policy
and Model Domestic Violence Policy.
- The Domestic Violence Unit in Salem, Massachusetts, established
by the Essex County district attorney, is housed in an office
near the Salem District Court. The purpose of the unit is
to put together a team that can foster collaboration and
cooperation between criminal justice agencies and victim
survivors, resulting in increased convictions rather than
dismissals of domestic violence cases. A team includes an
assistant district attorney, representatives of the local
police departments, a victim/witness advocate (bilingual,
if necessary) from the district attorney’s office,
and a victims’ advocate from a nonprofit organization
that helps abused women and children.
- In Multnomah County, domestic violence offenders released
under the district attorney’s deferred sentencing program
are intensely supervised by specially trained probation
officers. Two domestic violence units established by the
Portland (Oregon) Police Bureau with VAWA funds and the
encouragement of the Multnomah County district attorney
include a domestic violence victims’ advocate as part
of the law enforcement response team.
HOW IS COOPERATION ACHIEVED?
To cooperate effectively, prosecutors and victims’
advocates have had to recognize and respect (if not agree
with) their different perspectives and goals. Prosecutors
in the jurisdictions studied saw enactment of the Violence
Against Women Act (VAWA) as an opportunity to increase
victim safety and offender accountability. They viewed
the victim service provisions, primarily, as services
that would ensure the victim’s immediate safety and
facilitate the collection of appropriate statements and
evidence to secure a conviction. Victims and their advocates
looked to the law for more direct short-term aid, such
as shelter, and for long-term assistance that would allow
the victim to become psychologically, emotionally, socially,
and financially independent of the abuser.
From this perspective, prosecutors and advocates often
view new programs very differently. For example, prosecutors
see deferred sentencing as a way to hold accountable and
supervise first-time offenders who would otherwise serve
little or no jail time. Conversely, victims’ advocates
tend to view deferred sentencing as a slap on the wrist,
not a serious deterrent, and see the offender’s freedom
as an ongoing threat, keeping the victim from getting
on with her life. In the study sites, VAWA helped stimulate
initial discussions and ongoing mechanisms for resolving
these concerns, often spearheaded by prosecutors.
The Effect of VAWA
Prior to VAWA, many State, district, and county attorneys
recognized the benefits of providing coordination and support
services for victims of violence who were needed as witnesses.
VAWA funds helped stimulate the allocation of more resources
for prosecuting offenders who victimized women and more
resources for supporting victims through the harrowing process
of bringing those offenders to justice. Above and beyond
funding, strategies incorporated in VAWA helped bring about
an increase in coordination between prosecutors, including
U.S. Attorneys, and staff in other agencies concerned with
preventing revictimization and reducing further trauma among
women who have survived violence.
According to the study’s findings, key steps that
district and county attorneys can take are:
- Forming a specialized unit to prosecute offenders who
sexually assault or abuse women.
- Assigning to these units attorneys and victim/witness
coordinators who have special training and skills in obtaining
evidence and prosecuting sexual predators and offenders
who batter and abuse their wives or girlfriends.
- Locating attorneys and victim/witness coordinators together
in offices shared by shelter-based victim advocates and
other criminal justice agency staff, including police and
community corrections officers specially trained for dealing
with cases involving family violence and sexual assault.
- Creating cross-agency response teams (one advocate/one
police or probation officer; one advocate/one prosecutor;
one nurse examiner/one advocate/one officer) who train together
and meet with a victim at a suitably designed facility immediately
after an assault has been reported.
- Developing state-of-the-art forensic examination rooms,
offices equipped with closed-circuit telecommunication with
courts, comfortable interview rooms, and childcare spaces
on secure floors in buildings to which victims can be quickly
transported immediately after they report an assault.
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