In an effort to ensure that domestic violence victims get the protection they need through the courts, the YWCA Central Alabama recently hosted training for judges and attorneys aimed at helping them better understand the issue.
“This is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Jennifer Caraway, director of domestic violence services for the YW. “Alabama is often listed as one of the top states in the country for victims experiencing domestic violence. We need to be aware of new and innovative practices taking place across the nation so that we can do more to serve and protect them.”
Faculty from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges provided the training, which focused on topics such as victim and perpetrator behaviors, protection orders, custody issues and getting necessary information for court cases. Judges and lawyers from the Birmingham area attended separate day-long workshops, which were co-hosted by the Birmingham Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program.
“It’s important to know why victims react the way they do, why they may return to their abusers or why they may not show up in court,” Caraway said. “It’s also important for a judge to understand perpetrator behavior. Maybe the person before him is not the person the victim sees at home. Judges need to understand that when the perpetrator is losing his power and control over the victim, it’s one of the most dangerous times for the victim.”
Judges need to have as much information about the dynamics of each family as possible so that the best decision can made, according to Judge Steve Aycock, one of the presenters. “The legal system tends to be focused on what happened at 2 o’clock on Friday, but to understand what happened at 2 o’clock on Friday, you need to know the history and the context,” he said. Once they know that, judges can then determine what relief looks like for each particular family, rather than having a cookie cutter approach, he said.
The workshop for attorneys focused on the importance of background information and effective ways to present it. “Judges don’t get to control what they see from evidence,” Aycock said. “Attorneys control what they see. So the more information they can give to the judge, the better decision the judge can make. They need to present the information to the judge in a way that’s as easily graspable as a video would be.”
The NCJFCJ offers workshops to educate family court professionals on new research, case management strategies and best practices in order to improve the lives of families and children seeking justice. “It’s easy to get comfortable doing things a certain way, but that’s not always the best way,” Caraway said. “This training is something we thought our community needed, so we wanted to bring in the experts.”
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