Specialized Prosecutors

The U.N. Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women recommends that laws should designate and strengthen “specialized units on violence against women, and provide adequate funding for their work and specialized training of their staff.” (Sec. 3.2.4) When they have adequate resources, there is evidence that specialized units in the justice system are more responsive and effective in enforcing laws on violence against women. Experience has shown that the establishment of such units may facilitate the development of expertise in this area and may result in an increase in the number of cases investigated, a better quality of case presentation, and more efficient process for the complainant/survivor. However, in some countries, experience indicates that establishment of such units may result in the marginalization of women’s issues. It is, therefore, crucial that specialized units be accompanied by adequate funding and training of staff. (See: Prosecutorial Reform, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights; U.S. Dept. of Justice, Practical Implications of Current Domestic Violence Research: For Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges (2009); see also National Inst. of Justice, Violence Against Women: Synthesis of Research for Prosecutors (2000))

PROMISING PRACTICE – Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
The U.S. city of St. Paul received legislative funding to create a “blueprint” (a highly detailed, foundational document) for how to build an effective criminal justice response to domestic violence. The Blueprint for Safety sets out goals and methods to enforce Minnesota criminal laws on domestic violence and maximize successful prosecutions for perpetrators. The Blueprint has the following suggestions for prosecutors:

  • Engage in dialogue with the victim and avoid treating her simply as an information source.
  • Act in ways that prioritize safety and respect a victim’s precarious circumstances and fear of the offender’s aggression:
    • Request a no-contact order.
    • When a defendant is not held in custody, request pretrial supervision.
    • Be responsive to questions about the risks and benefits of testifying and the risks and benefits of not testifying.
  • Respond to domestic violence crimes in ways that are victim safety-centered but not victim-dependent:
    • Use all available sources of evidence that support charges independent of a victim’s direct testimony.
    • Seek charges stemming from a defendant’s actions after police arrival on the scene, witness tampering from jail, and violations of pretrial release conditions.
  • Protect victims from retaliation because of their participation in prosecution:
    • Emphasize at every opportunity that it is the prosecutor’s decision on behalf of the community and the state to pursue charges, and not the victim’s decision.

(See: Praxis International, St. Paul Blueprint for Safety: An Interagency Response to Domestic Violence Crimes, ch. 6)


CASE STUDY – Philippines

In the Philippines, trafficking of women and girls is a serious concern. In 1995, the Philippine government appointed a special prosecutor on trafficking and 181 cases were prosecuted in the first year. In 2003, the Philippines passed a new anti-trafficking law. By 2007, the government had 17 anti-trafficking prosecutors at the federal level and another 72 prosecutors in regional offices. One 2007 case resulted in a life-sentence for a member of a sex trafficking ring. Despite these efforts, there are nevertheless long delays in some prosecutions, highlighting the need for adequate funding, staffing, and training of specialized prosecutorial units. See: Philippines – Trafficking in Persons, Preda Foundation; Philippines, humantrafficking.org; The Philippines, Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation.