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General

Prosecutors, or State’s Attorneys, represent the authority of the state in bringing a case against an accused perpetrator of violence. Prosecutors are responsible for gathering evidence, for charging cases, and for establishing all of the elements required by law to prove the case in front of a judge or jury. These responsibilities provide an opportunity for prosecutor contact with all participants in the criminal justice system: victims/survivors, witnesses, police, judges, advocates, juries, and probation/parole staff. Thus, prosecutors are well-positioned to provide expertise and leadership in addressing violence against women and girls (National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women, 2001).

Prosecutors should have the responsibility for bringing charges and trying cases of violence against women and girls. The state’s duty to protect its citizens is enshrined in many constitutions and human rights instruments. If a survivor must pursue her case in the criminal justice system, she is likely to abandon her claim due to fear of the consequences of a public prosecution, including social stigma, family disapproval, fear of her abuser’s retaliation, fear of the legal process, and a lack of information about the justice system.

Prosecutors should have the responsibility to pursue a case regardless of the level of injury or the type of violence. State prosecution can remove the shame often felt by survivors, contribute to their recovery, act as a potential deterrent to offenders, and may provide an incentive for other survivors to come forward (United Nations, 2009).

The three goals of prosecution should be: (1) to protect the survivor; (2) to hold the defendant accountable for the violence, thus deterring him from further violent acts; and (3) to communicate a strong message of zero tolerance for violence against women and girls to the community. Overarching strategies to support these goals include:

  • Establishing and implementing protocols to prioritize survivor safety;
  • Incorporating knowledge of gender-based violence into policies and protocols; and
  • Thoroughly investigating and effectively prosecuting acts of violence against women and girls.

Justice sector programmes focused on prosecutors can encourage prosecutors to prioritize survivor safety by:

 

What is a no-contact order?

During the pendency of a criminal case, the court should have the authority to issue a no contact order or a domestic abuse no contact order, which is different from a civil order for protection. A no contact order directs the defendant not to contact the victim in any way, by telephone, email, in person, at the victim's place of employment, home, school, or in the community during the pendency of the criminal proceeding. The no contact order should remain in effect at least until the criminal case is concluded. A violation of the no contact order should also be a criminal offense.

 

  • Allowing victim agency in certain cases of domestic violence. Victim agency allows a victim to make the decision on whether or not the case should be pursued. It is usually limited to cases of less severe injury from domestic violence. Victim agency prioritizes a victim’s own assessment of how her family’s needs will be met and how they will best be kept safe.
  • Recognizing that victim recantation and refusal to cooperate are often the outcome of threats by the abuser, and prosecutors should not react by threatening to prosecute or by prosecuting the victim.
  • Utilizing protective measures to increase survivor safety, including alternative means of testifying such as video testifying and gag orders. A gag order in this context is an order from a judge that the lawyers and/or the media not disclose the survivor’s identity or other identifiable facts about the survivor and the case.
  • Informing survivors of civil remedies which are available, such as protective orders, when prosecutors decline pursue domestic violence cases. And, in some criminal systems, the survivor can pursue criminal remedies privately, particularly when the prosecution has dropped or lost the case.
  • Providing alternatives to increase outreach and assistance to victims in rural communities. Rural communities often experience a lack of victim advocate services, information about victim services, shelters, public transportation, and communication services such as mail, telephone, or email. Prosecutor staffing is likely to be limited. The community may be geographically isolated and economically challenged. In sparsely-populated areas it can be more difficult for victims of violence to report the violence due to the lack of anonymity or confidentiality. Victims may fear traveling to a city to receive assistance. Some outreach practices which have been shown to be effective in improving assistance to victims in rural areas include:
  • Obtaining adequate funding for comprehensive victim services in rural prosecutor’s offices. Funds may be lacking to maintain adequate and fully-trained staff, to create specialized units, and to include the full range of services which are necessary to serve survivors of violence. Adequate funds are necessary for interpreter services, DNA testing, investigation services, and social services.
  • Seeking nontraditional resources for rural prosecutor offices, such as in-kind donations of office space, computers, furniture, and supplies.
  • Utilizing nontraditional resources such as municipal or county boards, local corporations, hospitals, or faith-based organizations. Adapted from: Office of Victims of Crime, A Victim/Witness Guide for Rural Prosecutors, Overcoming Geographical Isolation.

 

Tools for Working with Prosecutors:

Standards of Professional Responsibility and Statement of the Essential Duties and Rights of Prosecutors (The International Association of Prosecutors, 1999). Available in English.

Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, 1990). English.

Your Meeting with Crown Prosecutor’s Service- Special Measures Guidance to Assist Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses (United Kingdom Crown Prosecutor’s Service). An easy-to-understand leaflet for survivors. Available in English.

Use of Expert Witness Testimony in the Prosecution of Domestic Violence Cases (United Kingdom Crown Prosecutor’s Service, 2004), details how experts can be used to explain the dynamics of domestic violence to judge and jury and how the dynamics affect victim behaviour. Available in English.

Model Policy for Prosecutors and Judges on Imposing, Modifying, and Lifting Criminal No Contact Orders (Long et. al., 2010).This publication encourages prosecutors and judges to develop and implement a process to gather timely and accurate information about risk and lethality, a particular victim’s wishes and motivations, and possible negative consequences in order to best determine when to impose or maintain a no contact order in the face of a victim’s opposition. Available in English.

Prosecutor Protocol on Domestic Violence in Albania (The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative, 2006). Available in English.

Code of Ethics for Public Prosecutors and Deputy Public Prosecutors (Republic of Croatia, 2008). Available in English and Croatian.