While there have been great strides since the days prior to the “Violence Against Women” Act became law, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault   are often underserved and marginalized by the criminal justice system. As ironic as it is, given the prevalence of these crimes in the US, the complexities of these crimes are not well understood.  Further, after decades of effective advocacy, policy changes, and direct service provision, myths about violence against women and victim blaming persist, and impact the effectiveness of the criminal justice system’s response to victims and survivors

Funded by the US Dept of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Full Court Press addresses the need among legal advocates and non-profit victim services attorneys for expert witness training and technical assistance on domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA). Although research indicates that judges and juries are moving beyond a strictly psychological understanding of interpersonal violence, justice for survivors continues to be hampered by misunderstandings about violent crimes against women. While advocates and researchers in this field agree that explanatory theories for DV and SA can reduce persistent misconceptions and perceptions of culpability for victims, true progress will be made when more legal advocates provide, and more attorneys call for expert testimony in DV and SA. While the effective use of expert testimony in DV and SA cases is in its infancy, available research indicates that the use of expert testimony in these cases can greatly improve the criminal justice system’s understanding of these crimes and positively impact outcomes for survivors. To date, no comprehensive training or technical assistance exists. The Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at the UT School of Social Work has developed Full Course Press to fill this gap.

Full Court Press is rooted in a pedagogical framework that includes a four pronged approach: training to increase or improve knowledge and awareness; practice and experience; mentorship; and community engagement. The Full Court Press target audience is legal advocates, non-profit and/or nongovernmental victim services attorneys, and other OVW grantees providing training to law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, and other court personnel.

Goals of the project include:

1)    Expand knowledge about and use of expert witnesses in DV and SA cases. Objectives: Compile existing resources, integrate resources from other disciplines, and build exemplary pedagogy about training expert witnesses and the use of expert witnesses.

2)     Build capacity for criminal justice and victim service organizations to effectively address DV, SA, and stalking. Objectives: Facilitate interdisciplinary site team participation and engagement to increase competence, develop accessible, practitioner-friendly resources, and Web-based learning opportunities to community members from site team jurisdictions.

3)    Increase the use of expert witnesses in DV, SA, and stalking cases. Objective: Develop competency in 80 legal advocates and non-profit victim services attorneys.

4)     Determine the impact of the project. Objective: Evaluate the effectiveness of products.

Technical assistance includes a national training conference, eight hours of one-on-one technical assistance for each site on cases and implementation of their action plans, three webinars on using experts in specific cases, and a Learning Community as an ongoing resource. By December 2013, 170 participants from 40 communities will have increased capacity as expert witnesses. OVW will have a 28-hour curriculum on how to be an expert witness that was field tested with the target audience of legal advocates and non-profit victim services attorneys.

Sponsor:  U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)