In this edition of the newsletter we review two books, Gendered Justice: Intimate Partner Violence and the Criminal Justice System and Victim Advocacy In The Courtroom: Persuasive Practices in Domestic Violence and Child Protection Cases.
Schuster, Mary L. and Propen, Amy D. (2011). Victim Advocacy In The Courtroom: Persuasive Practices in Domestic Violence and Child Protection Cases. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Reviewer: Rebecca Oaxaca-Lovelace
Authors Mary Kay Schuster and Amy Propen have been long time victim advocates in the domestic violence movement. Mary Kay is a volunteer with the WATCH (originally named Women and the Courthouse) program in Hennepin County, Minnesota, and Amy works with survivors at the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence program in Boulder County, Colorado. The two authors observe, discuss, and review the roles of the Guardian Ad Litems (GAL’s) and Victim Impact Statements (VIS) in the courtroom and the effect they have, if any, on the recommendations or sentencing outcomes of the defendant.
The book begins with a very thorough overview of the roles and responsibilities of victim advocates and their importance in helping the victim through the often intimidating legal system into which they find themselves thrust. The authors review a few court cases that highlight different scenarios played out every day in courtrooms across the country. Issues of child abuse and neglect and the impact of domestic violence on children are discussed throughout this book, addressing the many perspectives of the criminal justice system from those working in different areas along this continuum. Additional topics of discussion are the effects (both positive and negative) that the legal system can have on victims, adults and children.
The role of GAL’s as it relates to child advocacy work and the importance of these volunteers to the Court are reviewed. Children in the court system, often times by no fault of their own, face many psychological challenges that can be harmful if they do not have someone who speaks up for them and act in their best interest in the courtroom. This is the role of the GAL. However, as the authors state, this is no easy task. Factors, such as emotions (or lack there-of as is often needed), respect for the child advocate in the legal system, credibility and trust, all play into the successful advocacy work for child victims in the courtroom. This book discusses all of these factors in depth and how the GAL’s success in these areas is significantly linked to success for children in the court system.
Victim Impact Statements (VIS) are another piece of victim advocacy work addressed by the authors in this book. VIS’s are most often read at sentencing either by a close family member of the victim, the victim themselves, or by the victim advocate. These statements can have a powerful effect on the court. The emotionality of a VIS can lend a dramatic presence to the courtroom. Consequently, the sometimes detrimental effects of “too much emotion” are acknowledged by the court and the idea of how VIS’s are part of the healing process for victims is discussed. However, as the authors point out, VIS's often do not offer the victim or family the sentence or closure that they want from the court. Opinions on the effectiveness and expectations of VIS’s are addressed and discussed by judges, defense attorneys and victims themselves.
One of the most interesting and most important discussions brought forth in the book by the authors (in the reviewer’s opinion) are the dichotomies of reason/emotion and objectivity/subjectivity. Both are defined and discussed in each scenario in this book, as evidence by the title of chapter four, “Issues of Credibility, Trust, and Power for Victims and Their Advocates”. These topics, coupled with the role of “emotionality” addressed throughout the book, are at the core of the success or failure of GAL’s in the legal system. Without these characteristics ingrained into each individual GAL, and successfully carried out within the system on behalf of abused and neglected children, the effects of the criminal justice system on our most vulnerable victims would be devastating. The proper use, implementation of their training, and extent of relationships that GAL’s and victim advocates need, is critical to helping victims successfully maneuver their way through the system and generate positive outcomes for them and their families. The authors address how all of these characteristics, leadership abilities, compassion and empathy, are important for the success of the GAL program, victim advocacy, and crime victims.
Addressing the topic of objectivity versus subjectivity in the role of the GAL, the authors note that it is important that GALs remain neutral, convey observations to the Court from their unique perspective, and make recommendations or comments on behalf of the child that no one else can within the confines of the law. According to judges, the GAL’s report needs to be persuasive and provide a complete view of the child’s situation. The authors stress that this kind of objective, honest feedback and recommendation is truly in the interest of the child victim and is at the heart of what the GAL's role is in the court and criminal justice system.
Victim advocates, much like GAL's, play a significant role in the criminal justice system. Shuster and Propen assert that victim advocates require the same level of trust, credibility, emotionality and relationships within the system that GAL’s have. Often, victim advocates do not have the same voice within the courtroom that GAL’s enjoy, because their role is to ensure the victim is aware of the process of criminal proceedings, not to make recommendations to the court about what is in their best interest. One of the most important things victim advocates do is help the victim or victim’s family prepare a VIS and read it in court if they so choose. As noted earlier and discussed so well by the authors, VIS’s can play a vital role in the healing process for victims and family members.
The authors offer a well rounded, objective, clear, and concise picture of the GAL and victim advocate. The scenarios and interviews of key players in the system all provide for great insight into these roles that anyone familiar with these positions would find factual and of great interest. For those looking to educate themselves on the role of these positions and the psychology of victimization, this book provides an introduction into many psychological and tangible aspects of victim advocacy.
Rebecca Oaxaca-Lovelace is a graduate student in the Department of Criminal Justice at Boise State University and the Director of the Nampa Family Justice Center.
Garcia, Venessa & McManimon, Patrick. (2011). Gendered Justice: Intimate Partner Violence and the Criminal Justice System. Lanham, Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Reviewer: Lauren Michelle Spath
Venessa Garcia and Patrick McManimon, both assistant professors at Kean University-Union, New Jersey, enlighten the American society on a prevalent societal problem: gender-based violence. Their book, Gendered Justice: Intimate Partner Violence and the Criminal Justice System, highlights on the importance of understanding the underlying causal factors of gender-based violence, in particular intimate partner violence, and examines how the criminal justice system handles gender-based violence.
The first chapter, entitled “The Social Construction of Womanhood and Intimate Partner Violence” provides a basic introduction to a widespread social problem in modern American society that has been actively present for centuries, i.e., intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Garcia and McManimon establish the tone of the book by reviewing bold statistical facts portraying the likely victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence. They also discuss the social construction of the “ideal victim” of intimate partner violence. As part of “ideal victim” victims are tagged with stereotypes that require them to be “passive women, but also demonstrate a level of resistance” (Garcia & McManimon, 2011, 2). Using specific constructs to categorize and label these “ideal victims” of gender-based violence brings about contradictions that make it troublesome for victims to acquire help. Garcia and McManimon vividly outline the historical context of intimate partner violence within the United States dating back to the 1780s. Through the perspective of gendered justice, they examine the changing legal framework from. This change is a result of cultural change over the years. What was acceptable in the 1780s might be deemed unacceptable today, such as “the rule of thumb.” This method allowed a husband to beat his wife or children as long as the instrument being used is no thicker than his thumb. Within the first chapter, Garcia and McManimon set the scope of the book to be a multifaceted analysis of gendered justice. Gendered justice is not a mainstream terminology, but a term used to depict the treatment women and is defined as “a form of justice within most societies that is structured by a patriarchal organization of society” (Garcia & McManimon, 2011, 5). Gendered justice weighs heavily in the reason why men have more rights and recognition than women in American society.
Chapter two, “Understanding the Scoop of Intimate Partner Violence,” focuses specifically on how society’s definitions of intimate partner violence has been shaped and heavily influenced by social constructs of the time. Social constructs clearly articulate social behaviors that are tolerable and intolerable, which allow members of society to label situations as acceptable and unacceptable. Ideologies are influenced by the actively present social constructs of their time and limits possibilities that are exceptions to the rule of the mainstream social constructs. Changing social constructs to adapt to the current times directly affects the social construction of intimate partner violence and, therefore, change the definition and ideologies of gender and family. According to social constructionism, “naming” is a significant aspect that permits society to determine classifications for dealing with situations. Commonly, violence is the foremost emphasis that police and crime statistics look at; however, there is more to intimate partner violence than just violence. Intimate partner violence does include violence, but also includes stalking, financial abuse, and psychological abuse. Even though, times have changed and the law has mostly given women equality, the implementation of criminal justice does not measure up in providing the same equality.
Chapter three, “Deconstructing Cultural Images and Myths of Intimate Partner Violence,” pinpoints an explanation of why the criminal justice system does not provide equality when relying on the present social constructs. These constructs are used when handling victims, meting out justice, and providing community responses. In order to get over this hurdle, society as a whole needs to let go of past social constructs; however, institutionalization is a road block to the hurdle of social constructs. The very presence of institutionalization causes cultural images and myths of intimate partner violence, criminal justice responses, and community responses to taint society’s view on how to handle these types of situations, especially how to handle victims. In order to fix these embedded social constructs, deconstruction became a top priority for feminists. Deconstruction brings to the surface these concealed assumptions revealing values and interests that play a vital role in shaping society’s view on gender-based violence and how to handle these crimes.
Chapter four, “Legal Jurisprudence and the History of Intimate Partner Violence” extensively details the jurisprudential timeline of intimate partner violence, dating back to the earliest legal system, the Code of Hammurabi, to address violence against women along with the criminal justice system’s actions of handling intimate partner violence. It is quite evident that throughout history, cultures are aware of this problem of intimate partner violence, yet do not acknowledge it as a social problem. There have indeed been positive changes, but overall the progress has been slow. Once again legal codes and responses by the criminal justice system and society have been affected by social constructs and gendered ideologies.
Chapters five through seven discuss how intimate partner violence is handled by each major branch within the criminal justice system, i.e., police, courts, and corrections. The police are first line defenders and responders of the criminal justice system. However, despite their main service of protection, female intimate partner violence victims for centuries did not acquire this service primarily as the outcome of the social construct of viewing intimate partner violence as a private matter. The classic police response to intimate partner violence throughout the majority of the twentieth century is known the “do-nothing response” because police often viewed intimate partner violence as a private matter and, therefore, did not protect victims. The aftermath of the “do-nothing response” resulted in the lack of records of the abuse and consequently deterred action by the criminal justice system. After research studies and changes of legal and social norms, mandatory arrest polices were adopted which incorporated the present cultural climate. Additionally, the definition of intimate partner violence was broadened to include dating and same-sex couples.
Similarly, prosecutors often did not give the equal attention to victims of intimate partner violence. It was common not to prosecute these cases or to charge as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Prosecutorial changes involved no-drop policies and evidence-based prosecution. Judges most commonly give sentences requiring counseling. However, this ignores the problem by labeling perpetrators as pathological individuals and not blameworthy offenders.
Chapter eight, “Escaping Intimate Partner Violence,” highlights the fact that despite the more proactive justice response, victims are still confronted with many troublesome barriers. Myths and social constructs always managed to impede proper responses even despite the changing social constructs of the 1960s and the 1970s. The Shelter Movement of the 1970s was created by feminist and victim-led advocates whose mission was to bring attention to the American society that violence against women was the product of a patriarchal society. Despite the research brought to society’s attention by the Shelter Movement advocates, intimate partner violence is still being disregarded. Emphasizing the issue that women are under a great deal of risk when trying to leave an abusive relationship, finding refuge within these shelters is a good starting point to escape because these shelters provide useful services. Nevertheless, it is quite necessary to receive more protection, help, and guidance from society and the criminal justice department.
The final chapter, “Reality Reconstructed,” stresses the thesis of this book that social constructs directly affect victims of gender-based violence, importantly “how intimate partner violence victims experience victimization, justice, and healing” (Garcia & McManimon, 2011, 181). Essentially, there are implications for the victim, the criminal justice system, and society.
Gendered Justice: Intimate Partner Violence and the Criminal Justice System is a valuable and unique edition to the research on gender and violence against women. The authors recognize how various cultures, the U.S. society, and the U.S. criminal justice system have addressed gender-based violence and the female victims using social constructs. The domino effect of the cultural climate change in addition to the changing the social constructs, resulted in altering justice practices. As time has passed, women have gained recognition, yet are not equally protected as this point has clearly been illustrated. The move from a laissez-faire approach to a more hands-on approach is by far an improvement on how to handle cases of gender-based violence, but an unfair disadvantage will be always be a present because of institutionalization. Deconstruction and reconstruction of social constructs are useful tools to alter unfair practices directed towards women. However, the common trend is to follow these social constructs which results in gender-based violence being handled with gender-based justice. Social constructs make people narrowed-minded, instead of open minded, which is a big cultural downfall.
Lauren Michelle Spath is a criminal justice masters student at the School of Criminal Justice and Public Administration at Kean University in New Jersey.