Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Individual Case Advocacy

10/01/1996

Advocates also influence the process by advocating on behalf of individual battered women. In some sites, criminal justice agencies employ victim advocates who serve both the victim and the agency. For example, in Baltimore the State's Attorney's domestic violence unit has a staff person to assist victims and to work hand-in-hand with the prosecution. Victim advocacy may also be provided by an independent source and focus solely on the needs of the victim, rather than playing a role in the criminal justice response to the case. Kansas City has both types of advocates and, at times, the differences in the roles have led to tensions between the two. The court advocates in Kansas City's Municipal Court act as liaisons between the prosecutor and the victim and mainly serve to help victims through the court process. The service advocates, on the other hand, are there to provide information and referrals to the victim, who is their first priority.

San Francisco has a different victim services advocacy model that was developed by an independent group from within the criminal justice system. Although the Family Violence Project is located within the District Attorney's Office, its primary role is to serve the victim in domestic violence cases, not the prosecution. This is reinforced by the agency's policies that allow the Family Violence Project to maintain the confidentiality of its clients and not share information about the case with the prosecution.

Victim advocacy services are sometimes provided to battered women in health care settings. Having these services available has become increasingly important as more health care providers screen for domestic violence and identify more battered women. Several sites (Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego) have programs to provide advocacy services to battered women in health care settings. These programs provide advocacy services to battered women referred by health care professionals in the Emergency Room, and sometimes from other hospital department. In two sites (Kansas City and San Diego) domestic violence advocacy programs have located in children's hospitals to serve battered women with children.

Another means to improve the outcomes for battered women more broadly is to change standard practices and to reorient thinking so that professionals routinely assist the victim as part of their jobs. This can be reinforced through training for professionals who are likely to come into contact with battered women (e.g., health care providers and social workers). In several states and communities, criminal justice agencies (whose role has typically focused on the offender) have implemented procedures to include the victim in their response. Minnesota, for example, requires police, prosecutors, and probation officers to contact domestic violence victims and to provide them with a list of services and resources. Several other communities also require police to provide battered women with information on domestic violence services. Probation officers in several sites also routinely contact the victim to let her know about the terms of the probation and who to contact if she has further problems.