The Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) will educate criminal justice professionals and community leaders throughout Texas on how to utilize and serve as an ethical expert witness in the court system in cases involving interpersonal violence: Domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, non-fatal strangulation, and interpersonal violence against older adults or people who have disabilities. 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, and better able to prosecute these cases, with increased connection to community resources, thus exponentially improving the effectiveness of the court system’s knowledge about and responses to crimes involving interpersonal violence. 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 to build local expertise. Continuing education for lawyers and judges, medical professionals, licensed mental health providers, law enforcement, 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 skills, including qualifying, direct, and cross-examination. Ideally, because courts are comprised of a variety of professionals, training will consist of 8 to 16 multi-disciplinary participants (e.g., consisting of some combination of attorney, advocate, SANE or other medical personnel, or law enforcement officer) The sessions will be twenty-four hours long spread over 3 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 and experts living and working in the same community, which serves to strengthen community response and increase the coordination of services within that community.

Technical support continues after the classroom, with faculty providing case consultation to attorneys and experts.

This project is designed to deepen the criminal justice professionals’ knowledge of how to utilize expert witnesses, train advocates/professionals on how to serve as ethical expert witnesses, build cultural competency for underserved populations to enhance legal advocacy, and build training competency. Underserved populations are often at higher risk of interpersonal 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.