Promising Practices for Victims of Sexual Assault and/ or Domestic Violence.
Presenter: Sarah M. Buel, Clinical Professor & Attorney, Austin, Texas
Instructor Sarah Buel
Domestic Violence Impacts Children
That children are adversely impacted by domestic violence is now well documented and intellectually understood. We present evidence based practices which are equitable and fair for all children and adults. Yet, attorney and court practices in some jurisdictions continue to reflect the out-dated notion that if the children have not be physically battered, evidence of domestic violence will be of little import in fashioning orders and agreements. Tragically, such denial places both the abused parent and children at greater risk for further harm, and all but ensures that the abuser will have further involvement with the criminal justice system; sometimes as an incarcerated parent, spending time in jail. Unfortunately, some of the children who were abused, end up abusing other children, then end up in the juvenile justice system. Often in these situations, the family is torn apart and the children are forced to live in single parent homes. Sometimes, adult victims and children overcome many huge obstacles during their healing process. The child does best in a protected environment.
This article offers ten practical recommendations for improving our interventions in domestic violence legal matters regarding children. Domestic violence impacts the clients of most advocates, probation officers and attorneys, but family and criminal law practitioners, in particular, are positioned to dramatically improve victim (adult and child) safety and offender accountability if they have learned how to intervene effectively.
Change Needs To Be Implemented
We must improve practices to change the current truth that it is a toss of the dice whether abuse victims and their children can access a lawyer or court that take their safety seriously. It is this chilling reality that informs the challenges to judges, lawyers and other professionals to move beyond dialogue to action, beyond victim blaming to offender accountability. Promising practices exist and will be highlighted; evidencing the many lawyers, judges and courts embracing the notion that justice is best served when all parties are safe.
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We have learned that often the best way to protect our children is to protect their mothers, who are desperately attempting to achieve safety. Sadly, the most frequently asked question remains, “But, why do those battered women stay?” The on going, uninformed antipathy toward abuse victims appears based on the notion of volition; that they choose to stay with the abuser in the face of appealing options. Victims have many valid reasons for staying with or returning to the batterers, not the least of which include a lack of financial resources, no job skills, fear, low self-esteem and believing that it is in the children’s best interest to have their father or a father-figure in the home. Many victims lack knowledge of their legal and other options, thus their response could be greatly impacted by access to well-informed, zealous counsel and progressive courts. We intend to discuss signs of emotional abuse, emotional abuse definition, what actions constitute a neglected child – child mental abuse – children of neglect – domestic violence and other issues in the free online movie to help you, your friends and colleagues know, understand and believe victims when they reveal what happened to them. Watch this video today. Good choices are available now to better help victims throughout their recovery. Now is the time to stand up for children and adults, by helping to prevent further victimization.
1. JUSTAS UNIVERSAL SCREENING FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAS BECOME PART OF THE STANDARD OF CARE FOR MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONERS, OTHER PROFESSIONAL’S CLIENT INTERVIEW MUST INCLUDE INQUIRY ABOUT ABUSE.
The attorney, advocate, probation officer or other professional must initiate questions about abuse in the household (or relationship) during the first meeting, in order to assess the immediate safety issues, regardless of whether the client is the victim, the perpetrator or the child. With any client reporting prior or current abuse, a civil protection order should be fully discussed in the context of completing a SAFETY PLAN.
In addition to screening for physical harm, advocates and lawyers should routinely ask about the psychological abuse, a common tactic of batterers to destroy the victim’s self-esteem. The abuser may have told the victim that no one will believe her, that she will be found wherever she goes, that no one will want to help her and that the violence is all her fault.
Attorneys and advocates must tell their battered child and adult clients, “You are not to blame for the abuse,” and “What your abuser has done is wrong,” and “Help is available.” A lawyer’s silence constitutes collusion with the batterer and likely malpractice. The financial impact of crime is also devastating which we will discuss later. All aspects of crime, including but not limited to the emotional impact of crime, touches the victim and the victim’s family.
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct
Whether offering specific resource and program referral information, or suggesting strategies with difficult victims, advocates are often able to decrease the stress of handling such cases. All intervenors must remember that when a victim recants or seeks to withdraw orders, she is trying to stay alive. If we become frustrated because the victim wants to dismiss the divorce or protective order, it is helpful to say the following:
(1) I AM AFTAID FOR YOUR SAFETY.
(2) I AM AFRAID FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR CHILDREN.
(3) IT WILL ONLY GET WORSE.
(4) I AM/ADVOCATES ARE HERE FOR YOU WHEN YOU WANT TO TALK OR LEAVE.
(5) YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE ABUSED.
Finally, domestic violence issues must be addressed in order to avert claim preclusion in future tort litigation against the abuser. Many states require that all related issues be handled in the divorce action, effectively precluding subsequent legal action as redress for the abuse. Thus, while victims are encouraged to detail the domestic and/or abuse in the divorce pleadings to allow the court to make the proper safety and remedial orders, such information is exactly what impedes future litigation. Especially if child and adult victims will need on-going therapy or will incur other expenses as a direct result of the abuse, it is critical to either ensure restitution and a settlement that includes future expenses, or that the final orders allow for further tort action to cover such expenses. Furthermore, most divorce decrees include language stating specifically that the parties have resolved all matters between them, with some even delineating tort claim prohibitions. If the child and/or adult victims have been emotionally traumatized, compensatory as well as the punitive damages should be sought. Attorneys will also want to consider tort litigation against other professionals whose improper interventions have harmed the child or adult victim, such as physicians, law enforcement officers or psychiatrists.
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