Tips for Facilitating Productive Communication with Justice System Professionals
Much of the suggested advocacy in this module encourages victim advocates to engage with justice system professionals. Calls and visits from victim advocates are not always immediately welcomed by those working within the justice system. Often community-based advocates are met with initial hesitation and trepidation.
It is important for advocates to plan ahead for how they will initiate a conversation with those in other disciplines.
- Advocates should prepare to introduce themselves including their name, title, and agency affiliation, the client on whose behalf they are calling, and the nature of the advocacy services they provide to that client (broadly, of course, so as not to violate confidentiality)
- When calling law enforcement and prosecutors it is helpful to have the victim’s name and the case number associated with their case. Most law enforcement officers and prosecutors are handling high case loads and having this information ready at each call will facilitate the conversation.
- No one wants to feel as though they are being told how to do their job by someone outside their discipline. To facilitate a good working relationship and productive communication, advocates should keep this in mind when contacting law enforcement and/or prosecutors with concerns about how the case is progressing.
- Advocates should prepare ahead for how they will approach the conversation and should ask the justice system professionals to confirm that the advocate has accurate information before advocating for a particular action or outcome. Advocates should consider whether they have particular questions about local law and practice that they might ask the justice system professionals to explain so advocates can help victims understand. There may come a time that, for advocates to effectively advocate for victims, advocates need to more directly request that law enforcement or the prosecution take some particular action. Preparation for these conversations is key. Advocates should ensure that they have accurate information and understanding of applicable laws and procedures before taking such a direct approach.
When helping sexual assault victims navigate the criminal justice system, it is most important that advocates not make assurances to victims that justice system professionals can or will take any particular action unless that information comes directly from the justice system professionals themselves. Assuring victims that a particular result will occur when that assurance cannot be made can adversely impact victims’ rapport with law enforcement/prosecution, victims’ rapport with the advocate, and victims’ decision whether to continue navigating the criminal justice system.
Example: A victim disclosed to her advocate that, although she wanted to continue participating in the criminal justice system, her greatest fear was facing her perpetrator in the courtroom. The advocate was aware that there was a law in her jurisdiction that permitted alternative forms of testifying in sexual abuse cases, including allowing victims to testify via closed circuit television from another courtroom so they did not have to be in the same physical location as their perpetrators. Before contacting the prosecutor, the advocate assured the victim that the prosecutor could simply set up an alternate procedure for the victim’s testimony and assured the victim she could testify at trial without being in the same room as her perpetrator. In fact, the law was quite nuanced and only in narrow circumstances could this alternative method of testifying be employed. It fell to the prosecutor to explain this to the victim who became so distraught and distrustful of the prosecutor and criminal justice system that she refused to testify. Without her cooperation the prosecution could not meet its legal burden and was forced to drop the criminal charges.