Principal Investigator: Noël Bridget Busch-Armendariz, PhD, LMSW, MPA
IDVSA Project Director: Karen Kalergis
There is a notable lack of understanding and responsiveness by courts to crimes of interpersonal violence (domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking). The lack of responsiveness can largely be explained by misinformation among those critical to court’s decision-making, that is, members of the public who make up juries and grand juries, and the judges themselves. Although some victim-blaming might happen, more often, judgments are made because these individuals do not understand the complexities of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. As a result, a huge portion of interpersonal crimes against women are not adjudicated. While this training will not focus on train on the crime itself, it will increase ability of courts to respond to these crimes and improve the system itself. Research indicates that courts are very positively influenced by expert testimony on interpersonal violence and thus courts become more informed, responsive, and victim-focused. Responsive court systems serve the highest justice when offenders are held accountable and victims feel heard and a part of the process. While professionals in the victim advocacy field (prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and victim advocates) have the aptitude to influence courts, many do not have the specific skills to achieve this goal. This barrier exists in large part because information that is needed to improve court systems’ responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking is inaccessible. Therefore, training is a priority need. Additionally, information has to be given in consideration of legal and ethical obligations and the availability and accuracy of research and factual information. Many of those in critical roles to influence courts do not have these skills or information.
This project is designed to train teams of three professionals from 20 sites in Texas. The focus on the training is on domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in court settings. Because courts are comprised of a variety of professionals, ideally the three member team will consist of a combination of a judge, a prosecutor, a law enforcement officer, and/or victim advocate. A four day training will be held in Austin and focus on training on pragmatics and effective and valuable ways to further train their local courts jurisdictions (grand juries and juries, judges, probation officers, etc. and other members of the court) about domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Continuing education units for lawyers and judges, peace officers, and victim advocates will be sought. The project is based on the rationale that: training professionals in courts systems leads to increase responsiveness of this system to crimes of interpersonal violence, and ultimately victims. There is considerable evidence to support this hypothesis. The project deliverables also include online training materials accessible to conference attendees and the development of individualized action plans for the team member about how to implement activities to will improve their local court systems’ responsiveness to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. This project is designed to build local competency. By building on local assets, the results are exponentially elevated: the reach is broadened and the depth is culturally and geographically relevant. Therefore, it is expected that this impact will build on itself beyond the scope of this project. This yields a more sustainable change and increase or durable impact for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Sponsor: This project was supported by subgrant No. 2502101 awarded by the state administering office for the STOP Formula Grant Program (Violence Against Women Act, VAWA), Texas Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division (CJD).