The Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) will educate criminal justice professionals and community leaders throughout Texas on how to utilize and how to be an ethical expert witness in domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, strangulation and stalking cases in the court system. The project is based on the rationale that increased awareness and education of criminal justice professionals leads to increased responsiveness of the criminal justice system to crimes of interpersonal violence, and ultimately, victims. There is considerable evidence to support this hypothesis.
The objective is for participants to return to their communities; better able to provide culturally specific legal advocacy to survivors, better able to prosecute these cases, and ready to train on this topic and thus exponentially improve the effectiveness of the court systems knowledge about and responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, strangulation and stalking crimes in Texas. Trainees carry their increased knowledge and information from the session to their communities to educate local jurisdictions (i.e. grand juries, juries, judges, probation officers, and other members of the court) about domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, strangulation and stalking in order to build local expertise. Continuing education for lawyers and judges, peace officers, and victim advocates will be offered.
This training is dynamic, experiential and flexible. Each session will focus on teaching criminal justice professionals and community partners, pragmatic, effective and valuable ways to improve the effectiveness of the court system and enhance the responsiveness of the criminal justice system to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Trainees practice testifying, direct, and cross examination skills. Ideally, because courts are comprised of a variety of professionals, trainings will consist of 8 to 16 multi-disciplinary participants (e.g., consisting of some combination of a prosecutor, a law enforcement officer, SANE or other medical personnel, and/or victim advocate.) The sessions will be twenty hours long spread over 2 and a half days and will be offered at different geographic locations within Texas.
This multi-disciplinary and local approach fosters collaboration and cross sectional learning and sharing between professionals. Immediate connections occur between attorneys, law enforcement, and experts living and working in the same community which serves to strengthen community response and increase coordination of services within that community.
Technical support continues after the classroom with faculty providing case consultation to attorney’s and experts.
This project is designed to deepen the criminal justice professionals’ knowledge on how to utilize expert witnesses, train advocates/professionals on how to serve as ethical expert witnesses, to build cultural competency for underserved populations to enhance legal advocacy, and to build training competency. Underserved populations are often at higher risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, strangulation and stalking crimes and as such special attention combined with cultural competency is needed to address their unique needs and improve the effectiveness of the court systems’ knowledge about and responses to these crimes in Texas.