This project will provide training to courts and positively impact court responsiveness to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking across Texas. The project team will conduct a three-day training for Texas court systems to increase responsiveness to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We will be targeting approximately eight to twelve sites throughout Texas, including up to two or three professionals working in the court system from each site (e.g. judge, grand jury member, prosecutor, law enforcement officer, victim advocate). An individualized action plan for each site team will be developed that includes specific strategies for improving court knowledge about and responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
There is a notable lack of understanding and responsiveness by courts to crimes of interpersonal violence (domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking). The lack of responsiveness can largely be explained by misinformation among those critical to court’s decision-making, that is, members of the public who make up juries and grand juries, and the judges themselves. Although some victim-blaming might happen, more often, judgments are made because these individuals do not understand the complexities of domestic violence and sexual assault. As a result, a huge portion of interpersonal crimes against women are not adjudicated.
While this training will not focus on training on the crime itself, it will increase ability of courts to respond to these crimes and improve the system itself. Research indicates that courts are very positively influenced by expert testimony on interpersonal violence and thus courts become more informed, responsive, and victim-focused. Responsive court systems serve the highest justice when offenders are held accountable and victims feel heard and a part of the process. While professionals in the victim advocacy field (prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and victim advocates) have the aptitude to influence courts, many do not have the specific skills to achieve this goal. This barrier exists in large part because information that is needed to improve court systems’ responses to domestic violence and sexual assault is inaccessible. Therefore, training is a priority need. Additionally, information has to be given in consideration of legal and ethical obligations and the availability and accuracy of research and factual information. Many of those in critical roles to influence courts do not have these skills or information.