for Victims of Violence Against Women
a woman is sexually assaulted or beaten by her intimate
partner, most often she is immediately thrown into the
alien and sometimes hostile world of the criminal justice
system. At such a moment when she is severely traumatized
and feels least able to make decisions, it can be critically
important for her to have an advocate to monitor the conduct
of law enforcement and to intervene on her behalf if that
are some guidelines to help you advocate on your own case
of that of a friend, client or relative. The specific
legal provisions outlined here apply in Sonoma County,
California, but remember, laws and law enforcement protocols
vary from state to state and county to county. Some of
those specifics might be different where you live.
police arrive at the crime scene, ask them to issue
an emergency protective order. This gives the victim
7 days to get a restraining order in place. These orders
should include prohibiting third party contact if there
is concern about retaliation by the perpetrator's friends
or family. VICTIM SHOULD IMMEDIATELY REPORT EVERY
VIOLATION OF ANY PROTECTIVE ORDER TO POLICE AND THE
there are subsequent assaults or restraining order violations
to report to police, call 911. Often the responding
officer or detective will encourage the victim to call
them personally; however, in some cases such calls are
not recorded and therefore there is no documentation
of these incidents. Call 911; then call the individual
rape cases, make sure police order a rape exam, which
must be conducted within 72 hours of the assault. The
victim has the right to have an advocate present and
to refuse any/all parts of the exam.
responding to a sexual assault should only ask enough
to determine that it's a rape; then a detective should
be called. Beware if the victim is asked to make multiple
statements to police, as discrepancies in her statements
can be used to discredit her in court.
are a host of special requirements for police responding
to a domestic violence call. In our county these include
mandated arrest in cases of visible injury or restraining
order violations, and the requirement that police remove
all firearms from the home. For more information on
these requirements, see "Domestic
Violence: What Should Happen When Police Arrive."
police if you know the perpetrator possesses firearms.
the days after the attack, get a copy of the crime report.
(The victim has a right to at least the face sheet of
the report and her statement.) The police report is
all the district attorney's office will use to make
their decision as to whether charges will be filed,
so it's really important to do whatever you can to get
the official police documents to be as accurate and
complete as possible. For example:
sure all physical evidence of the violence was collected
by police (clothing, photos of the scene, phones
pulled out of the wall, broken furniture, etc.).
sure the 911 tape has been captured. (911 tapes
are erased after a period of time.)
a supplemental report if there are errors or omissions
in the report. Be sure to include all threats, and
the victim's state of fear. It's a good idea to
write this out at home where you are relaxed and
have time to think about it and then take it in
there are witnesses to the violence who are not included
in the police report, notify police who should be
interviewed. If police don't conduct those interviews,
have the witnesses themselves go to the police station
and file supplemental reports.
Make sure the perpetrator's past violence against
this or any other victim is recorded by police. Be
sure to include all sex crimes, as these usually are
Make sure medical records on injuries from the assault
are on file with police.
Make sure the victim's injuries are photographed by
police at the time of the assault. Because bruising
is often more pronounced 2-3 days later, she might
need to go back to police and have them photographed
again. If that's not possible, have someone else photograph
them and sign a sworn declaration stating when the
photos were taken and by whom.
If at all possible, someone (an advocate, friend or
family member) should be present at all interviews with
the victim by police or any other law enforcement official.
In rape cases, the victim has the legally protected
right to have the advocate of her choice AND a support
person present at all interviews with police or district
soon as possible after the incident the victim and/or
her advocate should contact the detective assigned to
the case. Let her/him know you are watching the case.
Keep in close contact with the detective.
the perpetrator is arrested:
About two days after arraignment there will be
a bail hearing to determine the amount of bail.
Victim should talk with the probation officer
preparing the report for that hearing.
sure police note that the victim is to be notified
when the perpetrator is released from jail. Also
contact the jail directly and make sure they know
she wants to be notified.
If the perpetrator is not arrested:
Contact the detective assigned to the case and
find out what they're missing to keep them from
making an arrest. Do whatever you can to get them
what they need. Impress them with the victim's
state of fear and danger she is in. Keep on them.
the detective if all pertinent evidence has been
sent to the lab.
are frequently not arrested right away so covert
investigative techniques (i.e., phone traps) can
suspicious if law enforcement says it's a "he
said/she said." Make sure they've tried a phone
you're not satisfied with how the police are handling
over the detective's head and involve her/his
superiors. Where there are special rape/domestic
violence teams, contact the team supervisor; otherwise
contact the sergeant.
a letter to superior officers outlining the problems
with the case and request a meeting to discuss
it. (Your local rape crisis center, women's rights
group, or domestic violence shelter may want to
write a cover letter to add more weight to the
a formal complaint against the police agency and
of retaliation. You may want to wait until
the case is over.
if you wait to file it, write the complaint
while everything is fresh. Include as much
detail as possible. Document everything --
what was said as well as what was done.
District Attorney Process
to arraignment, the victim should tell the Deputy District
Attorney (DDA) prosecuting her case that she wants a
criminal protective order even if the defendant is
in custody. (Perpetrators often will call the victim
from jail to intimidate her or try to talk her out of
testifying.) A criminal protective order is like a restraining
order only better. Get a copy of the order before you
leave the courthouse that day.
every single violation of the criminal protective order,
including threats by the defendant or a third party,
to police and the DDA. (Also report to jail officials
if the perpetrator is in custody.)
soon as the case is assigned to a DDA, the victim should
write a letter stating she wants to prosecute; she wants
to testify; she doesn't want a plea bargain; and she
wants to be consulted in advance of any deal offers
being made to the defendant. Keep multiple copies of
victim should always have a meeting with the DDA at
least one day prior to her testifying in any court
proceeding to make sure the prosecutor knows the facts
of the case and to go over her testimony. This is to
avoid the victim being put on the stand without any
preparation by the D.A.'s office. Often the DDA will
set the meeting for the day of the hearing, then be
delayed and have no time to meet.
meet with the prosecutor alone; always take an advocate
or support person as a witness. DDA's often get the
victim alone to either give her false information or
pressure her to make a decision. She needs someone with
her who understands the system and can fight for her
testifying, the victim should read over her police reports
and any other statements she's made to police or at
the preliminary hearing, in order to refresh her recollection.
in close contact with the D.A.'s office regarding hearings
and court dates; otherwise things can happen without
your knowledge that later can't be undone (like plea
out for plea bargain tricks!
victim should take her time making decisions. If, for
example, the DDA calls about a plea bargain they want
to offer the defendant, she should not make a decision
on the spot, but tell them she wants to think about
it and will get back to them. Then she should get her
advocate on the phone and talk it over. Once a deal
is offered and accepted, it can't be undone.
a conviction (either via plea bargain or a guilty verdict)
the victim should encourage the DDA to submit a "statement
in aggravation" for the judge's consideration prior
to sentencing, giving the judge the reasons the perpetrator
should get the "aggravated" (i.e., longest possible)
sentence. The victim should give her input on this to
Often when there is a conviction the judge will ask
the probation department to prepare a sentencing report
to help the judge decide what sentence to hand down.
The victim should have a sit-down meeting with the probation
officer conducting the investigation for that report.
Be sure the investigator is aware of all the violence
against this and any other victim, as well as the victim's
state of fear for herself and her children.
Things Aren't Going Right With Your Case:
time is short, you may need to skip some of these steps
and go higher sooner.)
the DDA assigned to the case. Try to find out what she/he
needs to get the case on track. If that doesn't work:
a letter to the DDA, showing on the letter cc:'s to
the supervising deputy (eg., the Chief Deputy D.A. in
charge of the sexual assault team). In your letter,
ask for a specific response date. If you still don't
get what you want:
the supervising deputy D.A. and ask for a meeting to
discuss the problems and inform her/him of what you
that still doesn't work, write a letter to the District
Attorney, with cc:'s to the supervising deputy, your
county's governing body (i.e., Board of Supervisors),
a local women's rights group, and the press.
you're in the courtroom in support of a victim, here are
some things you should familiarize yourself with and keep
in mind while at the courthouse:
put yourself under time pressure; it may be hours before
your case is called. Allow yourself plenty of time so
you aren't worrying yourself or the victim. If you don't
know what courtroom your case is in, there is usually
an information desk as you enter the courthouse or in
the clerk's office.
with any dress codes (eg., no shorts or tank tops) or
you may not be allowed in the courtroom.
courthouses have metal detectors, so allow yourself
extra time; leave pocket knives or scissors in your
act out in the courtroom no matter how outraged you
are. The judge can hold you in contempt of court or
have you removed from the courtroom. Watch body language,
facial expressions, etc.
more support people the victim has with her the better,
not only in terms of moral support for her but also
as a deterrent to the perpetrator and his friends or
family. Especially in situations where the judge will
be making a ruling (i.e., sentencing, bail hearing,
etc.) it can also be significant to the judge to see
that she is not isolated.
Never Talk To Jurors during a trial. Never discuss
a case within hearing distance of the jurors -- not
in the hallway; not in the cafeteria -- nowhere. If
a juror tries to start a conversation, politely say,
"I'm sorry, I can't talk with you," and move away. Otherwise
you may be faced with a defense attorney calling for
a mistrial, claiming you influenced the jury.
out if the perpetrator is in custody or not. If the
perpetrator is in custody, report to the bailiff any
signs of his attempting to intimidate or communicate
with the victim in the courtroom.
the perpetrator is not in custody:
the victim to point out the perpetrator and his family
or friends who may be in court. Pay attention to who
these people are and where they are in relation to yourself
and the victim at all times.
be aware of where the perpetrator is. Position yourself
physically between the victim and the perpetrator whenever
the bailiff and prosecutor immediately of any threatening
or intimidating behavior.
bailiff or D.A. investigator to accompany the victim
to her car after court if needed.
aware of who was in the courtroom and who's around you
when you walk to your car.
the victim will be testifying:
to insulate her from unnecessary distraction. She needs
to be able to concentrate her thoughts and energy.
will not be able to be in the courtroom until called
to testify. Wait with her in the hallway or in the D.A.'s
she's testifying, support people should not sit directly
behind the defendant so that she doesn't have to look
at him when she wants to look at her supporters.
when she's testifying, don't nod or shake your head,
or anything else that could be construed as coaching
IVictim Do's & Don'ts
a folder with all the documents relating to your case
in one place.
give away your only copy of anything; especially not
to police or D.A.'s office.
notes or an ongoing log of telephone or other incidents
and all contact with police and district attorney officials,
noting time, date, witnesses, etc.
your own time making decisions. Don't let anyone pressure
you for an answer if they want to pressure you,
it's probably because what they want to do is not in
your input to the probation officer preparing the bail
report. This will be very soon after the arrest -- within
two days of arraignment. This can help determine whether
he stays in custody or not, so can be critical to the
at the jury when testifying in a trial.
you write letters of complaint, always show on the letter
(cc:) that copies have been sent to superiors within
that department (i.e., the police sergeant, the Chief
Deputy D.A.); to at least one outside person or agency;
to at least one women's group; and to the press if you
want to take it that far.
the defendant is convicted, the court usually orders
a pre-sentencing report to be prepared by the probation
department. The victim should request a sit-down meeting
with the probation officer preparing that report rather
than just input by telephone. Make sure they know everything
about the history and the danger the perpetrator presents
to the victim.
always recommend that a victim make a statement at sentencing.
If she doesn't want to read it herself, she can have
someone read it in her place. We have seen this change
a judge's sentence. It also gives the victim the sense
that she did everything possible to protect herself.
rights are spelled out in your state's penal code. The
following are victim's rights under California law. These
are pretty typical, but you should check your own state's
code. In California, if you have any questions about your
rights call 1-800-VICTIMS.
victim has the right:
to a copy of the police report. She'll get the face
sheet and her own statement; other witness statements
will likely be withheld.
to the name and badge number of responding police officers,
and the report number of the incident.
a speedy trial in sex crimes, domestic violence and
child abuse. Because of the nature of the trauma to
the victim in these cases, the penal code states that
these crimes are to be prioritized by the courts.
a rape case to have the support person of her choice
in the courtroom while she is testifying, even if that
person will be a witness in the case.
sexual assault and domestic violence cases, the victim
has the right to have her advocate sit with her on the
witness stand when she testifies.
input into the probation department's pre-sentencing
make a statement at sentencing.
a copy of the probation pre-sentencing report if she
requests it within 60 days after sentencing.
have the defendant tested for AIDS and to receive the
results of that AIDS test, in the case of sex crimes.
ask the D.A. for a criminal protective order.
to advance knowledge of any plea bargain offer by the
be advised when the perpetrator is released from custody.
the perpetrator is sentenced to state prison, the victim
has the right:
to know where he's housed.
to know if he dies in custody.
know if he's transferred to another facility.
to have it made a condition of his parole that he have
no contact with her or her family.
to ask that he be paroled 35 miles outside of the county
where she lives.
Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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