Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Significance of the Victim Advocate for Domestic Violence Victims in Municipal Court

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

The Significance of the Victim Advocate for Domestic Violence Victims in Municipal Court

Article excerpt

Previous research has examined factors that influence felony case prosecution in domestic violence cases, but few have analyzed how victim participation, or lack thereof, may affect the defendant's case outcome in misdemeanors. This study used 384 municipal cases from a specialized domestic violence court to examine the role of the victim advocate and variables that had an impact on victim participation with prosecution and case disposition. To ensure that decisions in all cases were consistent, all decision makers in the sample involved the same group: the court advocate, prosecutor, and judge. The analysis found that victim cooperation after arrest coupled with services provided by shelter court advocates were a strong predictor of victim cooperation at disposition and case outcome.

Keywords: victim advocate; victim participation in court; domestic violence; victimology

The past three decades have witnessed extensive research on the dynamics of domestic violence due to continuing concern over the persistence and widespread nature of this societal problem. Although nonfatal forms of domestic violence have declined over the last decade (Rennison, 2003), fatalities against young women continue to be a serious problem in the United States, whereby "homicide by an intimate partner is the seventh leading cause of premature death for women in general in the U.S. and is the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 15 and 45 years" (Hines & Malley-Morrison, 2005, pp. 32-33). Much of the reason behind the changes in domestic violence is thought to be due to the increased supportive services for victims, such as hotlines, shelters, witness subpoenas, and filing an order of protection, and mandatory arrest (The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence [MCADV], 2001). Making the decision to utilize the criminal justice system to stop further acts of abuse can be a very intimidating and confusing process for victims of domestic violence, who may become frustrated with their own attempts to seek help. Victims may fear retaliation by their abusers for having reported the incident to the police (Wiehe, 1998).

The creation of specialized domestic violence courts and specialized prosecution units has resulted in prosecution offices being more responsive to the needs of domestic violence victims (Roberts, 2002). The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was instrumental in providing the funds for prosecutors and the courts to improve responses to domestic violence cases. The act provided federal STOP (Services and Training for Officers and Prosecutors) grants that allowed for the implementation of victim assistance programs and advocates in courthouses or prosecutors' offices (Roberts, 2002). Prosecution-based advocates assist in gathering evidence, taking victim impact statements, and providing support and advocacy to victims who have reported domestic violence to the police. Advocates who are employed by a shelter understand the dynamics of domestic violence and the unique factors that have an effect on domestic violence prosecution (MCADV, 2001). Responsibilities of domestic violence program advocates include supporting victims through the court process and providing them with information about orders of protection, counseling support, shelters, legal referrals, and other social service information. Court advocates also act as a liaison between the victim and the prosecutor and among metropolitan area shelters and the prosecutor's victim assistance program . Discovering whether or not domestic violence program advocates play a vital role in victim cooperation and case outcome was the purpose of this study.

A state's county prosecutor first determines whether the crime fits the guidelines to be prosecuted at the state level as a felony crime (MCADV, 2001). If the case is declined at the state level, a general ordinance summons is issued for prosecution in municipal court. Municipal court proceedings are civil proceedings with quasicriminal aspects, with the power to hear violations of municipal ordinances (MCADV, 2001). …

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