In addition to working with domestic violence, Butler says there has been a surge in sexual assault reports. "Our officers have wondered out loud why we have seen a surge in sex cases," Butler explains. "My response is that these crimes have been occurring all along in our community and in every other community. The difference now, is that victims are coming forward because they are confident we will do something about it. No matter the issue, it is critical to give officers the knowledge and training they need to succeed and to ultimately help people."
The judiciary also can be responsive to victims of domestic violence in an effective way.
"One of the responses of the courts ... is the establishment of special dockets where only domestic violence cases are scheduled. This allows the judiciary to direct its full attention and resources to these important cases," Mark O'Brien, district court judge in Prince George County, Maryland, says. O'Brien acknowledges that victims often find the criminal justice system intimidating.
"Taking the witness stand to testify is an experience daunting enough to take the average person's breath away," he says. "Sometimes victims are so nervous, they cannot effectively put on their testimony."
O'Brien explains that when victims and witnesses can relate their experience comfortably before the court, a more effective outcome results. He recognizes the important role of victim and witness specialists in the courtroom who act as a liaison between victims and the prosecutor.
"The victim/witness specialists check facts, communicate with witnesses and relate to the prosecutors the wishes and concerns of the victims," O'Brien explains. "They also maintain communication with victims before and after court, and they advise victims of available resources."
Victim-impact statements can also aid the court in the sentencing phase of the case, O'Brien says. Though the prosecutor is usually able to relay the impact the crime has had on the victim, a statement by a victim can make a difference.
"The very personal impact of the victim is not fully communicated until the victim stands and, in his or her own words, describes the pain, injury and fear that the crime brought into their life," he says. "This puts a face on the crime and makes the event more personal, real and visceral."
Statements in a victim's own words can produce a powerful and moving communication between the victim and court, and could influence the court's disposition. Particularly in domestic violence cases, strong emotions can accompany the victim-impact statement because the victim relives the trauma.
"I have found that, on several occasions, the victim's statement has changed my perspective on a case and caused me to alter my sentence, usually to the defendant's detriment," says O'Brien. Complex relationships between victims and offenders in domestic violence cases differentiate them from other crime victims. O'Brien explains that the special relationships often lead the victim to petition to the court for sentence alternatives that address the issues, which brought the offender into the court system.Teen victimization
Though they are more likely to not report crimes or seek assistance, teenagers are more victimized than other age groups. Consequently, they are at greater risk for anxiety, depression and problems with relationships both at home and at school. For this reason, the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) developed the Youth Outreach for Victim Assistance (YOVA) project in conjunction with the Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime. Through the program, the peer mentors receive training on how to convey to teens that they are not alone and help is available. It also addresses issues such as bullying, the dynamics of victimization and outreach campaigns. Joselle Shea, manager of the Children and Youth Initiative at NCPC, says teens are able to brainstorm ways to communicate the project's message that may be lost to adults or older counselors.
"[Teen mentors] come up with ideas that I would never dream of," Shea says. "They make such an impact in the community."
"Across the United States, communities want programs and resources to deal with this and help communities take action," Shea says.
Outreach to young people is conducted through schools and victim service agencies along with public awareness events in the community that include fashion shows, basketball tournaments, school-wide assemblies and public service ads.