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Incorporate knowledge of gender-based violence into policies and protocols

Last edited: December 23, 2011

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This can be done by:

  • Increasing prosecutors’ knowledge of how the nature and impact of gender-based violence may affect a survivor’s willingness to testify due to:
    • The fear of retaliation by a perpetrator against a survivor, her family, or friends, especially when and if a perpetrator is released on bail;
    • Negative reactions from family or community to women who plan to testify;
    • A survivor’s unwillingness to re-traumatize herself by testifying;
    • A survivor’s fear of not being believed;
    • A survivor’s fear of being blamed for the violence due to her actions or to the perpetrator’s social standing;
    • A survivor’s lack of access to protective measures such as civil orders for protection, witness protection programmes, and courtroom safety measures; and
    • A survivor’s and her children’s economic dependency on the perpetrator.
  • Implementing pro-prosecution policies in cases of violence against women and girls. A pro-prosecution policy means that prosecution is likely but not mandatory. It ensures that the prosecution staff will give the issue serious attention (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, 2010).
  • Training prosecutors on protocols for evidence-based prosecutions, which allow for prosecution of offenders in the absence of survivors. Prosecutors should plan to use corroborating evidence such as physical evidence, medical records, expert witnesses, and other trial strategies to strengthen cases in which a victim is unavailable to testify. By relying primarily on the evidence collected by the police rather than the victim’s testimony, prosecutors may be able to reduce the risk of retaliation by the offender and increase the likelihood of a successful prosecution in the event that the victim is unable or unwilling to testify. Prosecutors who pursue difficult cases promote the message that gender-based violence will not be tolerated.
    • Avoiding delays in cases of violence against women and girls. Delays may cause survivors to end their participation in the case due to threats or other issues. Delays may also enable offenders to retaliate against survivors.
    • Reducing rates of dismissals and dropped charges for cases of violence.
    • Utilizing danger or risk assessment standards in setting bail, reaching plea agreements, and making sentencing recommendations.
    • Training prosecutors on non-stranger sexual assault cases: that these are legitimate assaults or rapes with real victims and culpable rapists although they knew each other and may be married or living together. Prosecutors should present the case as an aggravated assault by a trusted person. Prosecutors should support a victim’s claim of rape or assault by documenting:
      • All forms of resistance including words used to attempt dissuasion
      • Means of submission
      • Context or environment-related fears; for example, if the victim is also a victim of domestic abuse, or if children were present nearby.
      • Constraints felt by victim
      • Repeat assaults


Tools for Working with Prosecutors:

Policy for Prosecuting Domestic Violence Cases (United Kingdom Crown Prosecutor’s Service, 2009). Available in English and Welsh.

Guidance on Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Violence (United Kingdom Crown Prosecutor’s Service). English.

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (United Kingdom Criminal Justice System, 2004). English.

The Link® for Prosecutors (Phillips, 2009).How to use the link between violence against people and violence to animals in court. English.

Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Rape (United Kingdom Crown Prosecutor Service, 2009). Available in English and Welsh.

Prosecutor Sexual Assault Protocol: A Resource Guide for Drafting or Revising Tribal Prosecutor Protocols on Responding to Sexual Assault (Including a Model Sexual Assault Protocol (White et. al., 2008). Although this tool was drafted specifically for use by tribal prosecutors, its protocol can be widely applied to sexual violence cases in any location. English.

National Guidelines for Prosecutors in Sexual Offense Cases (South Africa Department of Justice). English.

Training Manual for Prosecutors on Confronting Human Trafficking (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Government of India, 2008). English.

Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2008). Guidelines and promising practices for judges, prosecutors, service providers, and policymakers on issues including protecting and assisting victims. English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish. To download individual Tools, see the Online Toolkit.

Trafficking Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation: Handbookfor Law Enforcement Agencies in India (Nair, 2007) English, Hindi. Section 5 contains a list of “dos and don’ts” for the prosecution of trafficking crimes. The Appendices include a checklist of elements of the law, possible evidence, and good practice models. 

Training Manual for Judges and Prosecutors on Combating Human Trafficking – Moldova (Vidaicu and Dolea, 2009). Romanian. Addresses substantive and procedural law, including investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases with international cooperation.