Domestic Violence

June 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

A social worker took a group of children from abusive families on a walk in the a park. The group came across a caterpillar and the social worker held it in her hand as they looked at it.

“That’s a mommy catapillar,” said one young boy.

“How do you know?” asked to social worker.

“Because she is frightened and curled up,” he replied.

This true story was recently told at the 2012 National Institute of Justice Conference in Washington D.C. It was told by a panel member in the discussion “New Research on Domestic Violence Courts and a Summary of Research on Domestic Violence for Advocates and Service Providers.”

The panel provided a flutter of discussion and some insightful presentations by Melissa Labriola (Senior Research Associate at the Center for Court Innovation) and Barbara Hart (Director of Strategic Justice Initiatives) in particular.  They spoke of the need for coordinated community response (CCR) between the practitioners who help victims of domestic violence (DV), and the researchers who help to understand and innovate the interventions that are used to protect them. However, they also lamented the lack of funding in this area of research, and acquiesced to the point that studies on this topic (DV) often include such small Ns (the number of participants able to be included in the research) that findings are weak and hard to replicate. Still, the panelist and expert audience members remained hopeful and emphasized the good work of groups like the NIJ and Center for Court Innovations in addressing the issue. If you happen to be a researcher, this is an area that is shamefully understudied and which, should you persevere, could greatly benefit millions of women, men and children.

Some interesting insights that I took away from this meeting (and another meeting on trafficking, which I will discuss later):

Victims of domestic violence in prison are a hugely underserved community; for example, many women who are jailed for prostitution or child neglect have been victims of domestic violence, many drug users/peddlers and some women convicted of DUIs began their habit or trade as a means to self-medication or to escape the pain of their situation. In other words, when domestic violence is involved, the concept of ‘victim’ and ‘criminal’ can become convoluted.

Home visits show significant promise for reducing the amount of intimate partner violence, increasing the level of maternal and child health, and aiding the development of children. Take a look  at some reports and studies here,  here and here (you may need library access…so contact me and I’ll send them to you). Also, stay tuned for a forthcoming Cochrane review on the topic of DV (summarizing the evidence for all DV prevention interventions) here.

– Not surprisingly, one of the hardest parts about serving and prosecuting abusers in cases of DV is the inability to get victims to stand as witnesses; nevertheless, because of the emotional, physical and psychological complexity of the situations, practitioners would rather not refer to victims as “not cooperating” if they don’t appear willing to testify–but rather as “not engaging.” This may seem like semantics, but the word “engaging” removes guilt from the victims and allows the colloquial argot of law to be more fair toward a victim’s potential inability to act on their own behalf.

– Many of the most difficult instances of DV in court are those that involve multiple abusers (e.g. gang violence against women). In such cases, should the victim be brave enough to engage with law enforcement and prosecute their abusers, the victim is required testify in court multiple times (for each abuser). This leaves victims vulnerable  to  being abused between hearings and stalked, attacked and harassed unless protections are put in place to guard or hide them. It also increases the likelihood of cases being dropped because victims are no longer willing to engage with the legal process. One solution to this problem may be to track cases according to prosecutors (i.e. the victims) rather than by the prosecuted (i.e. the abusers).

– Victims are more likely to participate as witnesses in court if their cases are brought to the court quickly–thus necessitating the expedition of such cases to the ‘front of the line’

Approximately 1 in 4 women in the US has been or will be a victim of domestic violence. If you happen to be in the DC area and would like to get involved in your community to support victims of domestic violence, you can volunteer with DC Safe or the DC Rape Crisis Center…just to name a few.

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