Educating the Judicial System on Domestic Violence: Is Enough Being Done?
The need for mandated judicial education regarding domestic violence stems from case after case of women and children that sought protection from the courts only to have judicial decisions that placed them squarely at the hands of their abusers. In some cases, the outcome was fatal.
According to Asbury Park Press (part of the the USA Today network), in New Jersey, Family Court judges receive 15 hours of statutorily mandated training on domestic violence annually out of 80 hours of yearly training.
A 2000 article as part of a yearlong series on Domestic Violence by the Denver Post found that “lack of mandatory domestic-violence training for special advocates can be detrimental to families. Judges rely on special advocates to conduct thorough investigations and often rely on their recommendations.”
So what’s being done to educate personnel on the complexities of domestic violence to prevent the mishandling of cases?
One initiative, enacted in 1994 from the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) composed a legislative measure, initially known as Court Training and Improvements Program which trains judges and court personnel in state and federal courts on issues related to domestic violence. In 2013 the program was consolidated to create Grants to Support Families in the Justice System program [viii]: “The overhead legislation is conveyed in the United States Code Service, 42 USCS Section 10420(b)(3), which relays that a grant may be used to “educate court-based and court-related personnel [et. al.] …on the dynamics of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, including information on perpetrator behavior, evidence-based risk factors for domestic and dating violence homicide, and on issues relating to the needs of victims, including safety, security, privacy, and confidentiality, including cases in which the victim proceeds pro se” [ix]. More information can be found here.
Established in 1979, The Colorado Judicial Institute, whose mission is to “preserve and enhance the fairness, impartiality and excellence of Colorado’s Courts, to further public understanding of the Colorado judicial system, and to ensure that the courts meet the needs of the people” supports the position of “continuing education for judicial officers and judicial department staff as a critical component of judicial excellence.”
Yet prioritizing domestic violence as part of court reform efforts to make more informed decisions in Colorado is murky. The judiciary may receive domestic violence materials, from organizations such as National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges which developed The Greenbook, a bench book used by judges that references specific domestic violence criteria in accordance with the Victims Rights Act. Additionally, The U.N. Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women, sec. 3.2.3, recommends that laws mandate:
- Regular and institutionalized gender sensitivity training and capacity building on violence against women,
- Specific training and capacity building when new legislation is enacted, and
- Development and consultation with NGOs and service providers in the process of training development.
Yet, a 2013 state-by-state data regarding mandatory domestic violence training for judges showed only 20 states had statutes in place or mandatory training. Colorado was not listed as one of them.
Which poses important questions and concerns as to the purpose of training law enforcement, and all supportive personnel if the law’s highest authority is not properly trained to comprehensively understand domestic violence. Lack of training can lead to rulings that can be detrimental and damaging to families.