What can a judge do to help stop domestic violence and assist victims to survive?
First, the judge must listen carefully and determine who is the victim. Your demeanor demonstrates to the victim that you are concerned about his or her circumstances and the underlying events.
remember that the initial step toward stopping the abuse is being
able to identify it as such. Denial, rationalization and minimization
are coping methods by the abused person and those closest to the
victim. The court must take whatever steps are necessary to insure
that the victim finds safety. The judge should take advantage
of all the resources available to provide comfort and safety for
the victim must trust you. One of the effects of battering is
that the victim's sense of trust has been so eroded, that he or
she can no longer perceive neutrality. To the victim accustomed
to living in an environment where a mistake in judgment could
be lethal, there is little room for poor judgment in the courtroom.
The court must take a proactive approach so that the victim trusts
the court and the judicial system. Where jurisdiction permits,
appoint an understanding lawyer to represent the victim and explain
while a victim may understand the legal issues intellectually,
he or she is on an emotional roller coaster. Comprehension of
the available options becomes difficult. A judge must
take time to explain the options available and to solicit
sufficient feedback from the victim to insure that there is sufficient
a victim may not want to make trouble and may appear very complacent
in the courtroom even when he or she does not agree with what
is taking place. A judge needs to take the time to ask for specific
details. A victim may tend to accept responsibility for
things that are not his or her fault, out of fear of further abuse.
Frequently, a victim will accept inaccuracies in the record for
similar reasons. A judge must make sure the court record is clear
and complete. This may include affording the victim the opportunity
to state any objections without fear and, if necessary,
without the batterer being present. Judges must take great care
to prevent dangerous or unfair settlements, custody and visitation orders.
Sixth, the atmosphere in the courtroom must be free of intimidation. It is easy to forget that the victim may have been exposed to years of intimidation. A judge can use his or her authority to the fullest extent of the law and enforce every relevant law in the case. They can also create a courtroom ambience that promotes "zero tolerance" of domestic violence. For example, a judge can instruct bailiffs not to permit the litigants and related family members or friends to interact in an obtrusive manner during court recess. These loud family visits may be manipulative, coercive and inappropriate. A defendant will sometimes behave in a jovial manner or make vulgar comments about the victim during courtroom recess. Allowing this to happen sends a message of defiance to both the court and victim, and makes it appear that the defendant is immune to the court's authority.