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Judges should modify court protocols, policies, and processes to support women and girl victims of violence

Last edited: December 23, 2011

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This can be done by:

  • Providing simplified, free-of-charge reporting procedures and specially-trained female court employees who exhibit a respectful demeanor. This will have a direct impact upon the number of victims who will apply for justice and who will continue to work with prosecutors to pursue crimes of violence.
  • Simplifying the procedures for accessing their courts. Rules for filing should be written in plain language and in as many languages as necessary.
  • Mitigating the harmful effects of a forensic system. Many victims of violence are required to obtain a forensic certificate from a medical professional as evidence of their injuries. The medical practitioner is charged with collecting, documenting, and preserving evidence of violence, taking a history of the assault, and providing an expert opinion as to the cause of the injuries, while at the same time providing the victim with necessary care and treatment. However, forensic doctors are often difficult and expensive to access, and can be hostile to victims of domestic and sexual violence. For many victims, the forensic examination is experienced as another type of assault, and the certificate requirement poses an insurmountable barrier to justice. This type of evidence should not be necessary to pursue a case, but should be made available for those who choose to access it. If possible, forensic doctors should be present at the initial appearance of the victim, along with police and the victim advocates, thus limiting the number of times she must repeat her account. Strategies to improve the forensic system’s response to survivors include:
    • Abolishing the requirement of a police referral to a forensic examiner. This is often at additional cost to the victim and may cause delays which can result in evidence degradation.
    • Providing female forensic examiners trained to provide gentle and compassionate examinations.
    • Enforcing standardized protocols to create uniform practice and updated procedures among jurisdictions.
    • Preparing standardized protocols for examination of young girls.
    • Ensuring that examination rooms are comfortable and private.
    • Ensuring priority in triage systems so that prompt examination and treatment prevents degradation of evidence.
    • Providing forensic exams only when consent is given and is not conditional to police reports. Consent should be requested for each separate procedure.
    • Providing victims with explanations of necessary procedures in their own language or with assisted communication prior to the actual procedures.
    • Providing up-to-date tools for gathering evidence.
    • Using “early evidence kits” (a mouth swab and a sterile container for a urine sample) so that a victim can take liquids or food and use the bathroom without contaminating the evidence. This is particularly important if delays before the more thorough exam are common.
    • Providing proper storage of evidence so that the victim may decide to report at a later date with no fear that evidence has been destroyed.
    • Educating victims about the importance of prompt treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.
    • Providing free-of-charge testing for HIV and follow-up care.
    • Offering free-of-charge prophylaxis for pregnancy.
    • Ensuring that all services, tests, and prescriptions are free-of-charge.
    • Providing victims with supportive care, including counseling and court support services, like that provided in Thuthuzela Care Centres.
    • Offering victims referral information for social services and follow-up care when care centres do not exist.
    • Providing victims with advocates from women’s NGOs who will provide safety plans and follow-up support.
    • Ensuring that forensic practitioners understand the dynamics of sexual assault and are not judgmental with regard to the victim’s clothing or whereabouts at the time of the assault.
    • Ensure that forensic practitioners receive training on evidence techniques involving DNA collection and how to protect the chain of evidence from tampering.
    • Providing forensic practitioners with training on differences between stranger and known-assailant sexual assaults, and how these impact the gathering and documentation of physical evidence.
    • Providing forensic practitioners with legal knowledge and prosecution techniques to better link exams with possible prosecutions; for example, documenting external injuries is important in predicting a prosecution (Kelly, 2005).
    • Using forensic nurses or other qualified personnel to extend the reach of forensic practitioners. In many countries, women seek private forensic exams even though free-of-charge public examiners exist, due to the fact that forensic doctors are extremely scarce (Pan American Health Organization, 2003).
    • Routinely educating other medical professionals on competent and sensitive forensic examination techniques for times when specially-trained forensic examiners are unavailable.
    • For more on forensic systems, see the Module on Health.

Central America – Study on victim choice of medico-legal service providers

A 2003 study tracked the reasons victims of sexual violence accessed particular service providers found that most victims (36.5%) chose providers closest to their homes. The second most important criteria for choice (31.5%) was the specialized service provided. Source: Pan American Health Organization, Situation Analysis of medico-legal and health services for victims of sexual violence in Central America, San Jose, Costa Rica. 2003

  • Providing clear guidance for and close supervision of court administrators. Court administrators include court clerks, administrative staff, bailiffs, and interpreters. Court administrators play an important role as the public face of the judicial system and the initial contact for members of the public. Judges should consider their administrative staff as key partners in promoting a fair, impartial, and accessible judicial system. Court staff should not receive bribes for making court dates or expediting proceedings. Judges should take part in drafting clear standards and policies for court administrators to use in the exercise of their duties, and judges should ensure that their staff is well-trained to execute these standards. Judges should monitor the actions of their staff to guard against corruption. All court policies should be streamlined with the goal of providing easy and non-threatening access to justice for claimants who approach the court system. Judges should ensure that court administrative staff understands violence against women and implications for the survivor and provides helpful information to all members of the public in a courteous manner regardless of the survivor’s race/ethnicity, language/literacy abilities, sexual orientation or any other characteristics.
  • Hiring female administrative staff in all court locations. Judges should ensure that trained female administrative staff is always available to take complaints involving domestic violence, sex harassment, and sexual assault. Many women are reluctant to speak with male staff about these matters.
  • Including more women in their ranks at all levels of the judiciary. Judges can promote the idea of women judges at law schools and bar associations. Judges should publicize their acceptance of the idea of female colleagues.
  • Implement and monitor a system which keeps data on victim contact information secure. Only authorized court personnel should have access to this data.
  • Design a courtroom security system that has victim safety as its cornerstone. When victims know that courtrooms are secure, they will feel safe enough to risk confrontation with the perpetrator in a court of law. Judges can:
    • Provide separate waiting rooms with bathroom facilities for victims that are staffed by law enforcement personnel.
    • Provide escorts for victims and witnesses as they enter and leave the building.
    • Provide weapon detector systems or procedures as the public enters the building.
    • Set up courtrooms with victim safety in mind. There should be adequate space between parties, multiple exits, and bailiffs on duty for every hearing.
    • Develop guidelines for an immediate response to violence or threats of violence. These guidelines should incorporate emergency evacuation procedures, a lockdown of the building, sequestering victims, witnesses, and juries, and the detention of violent offenders.
    • Train all staff on emergency response procedures. Update the training on a regular basis.
    • Inform staff that strict adherence to security procedures is essential to their employment.
    • Order victim and witness protection.
    • Provide swift and appropriate consequences for acts or threats of courtroom violence (National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and the Violence Against Women Office, 2001).


Emergency Response Plan (Supreme Court of Arkansas: Administrative Office of the Courts) establishes policies and procedures for fire, weather, earthquakes, major medical emergencies, bomb threats, active shooter, and hostage situations in court buildings and contains a template adaptable for use in any country. Available in English. 

Effective Interventions in Domestic Violence & Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice (The Greenbook) (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Family Violence Department,1999). Available in English.

State of New Jersey Domestic Violence Procedures Manual (Supreme Court of New Jersey and New Jersey Attorney General, 2008). Procedural guidance for law enforcement, judges, and judiciary staff. Includes filing procedures for nights and weekends, court procedures for all levels of the judiciary and court staff, service of process requirements, and examples of forms in English and Spanish, among other information. Available in English.

Training Manual on Gender Sensitivity and CEDAW (Ateneo Human Rights Center, 2007). Developed for the Philippine court system, it also serves as a reference tool to promote rights-based decisions. The Philippine Judicial Academy uses it in its training programme for court personnel. Available in English.

Avon Global Center for Women and Justice. The Avon Global Center works with judges, legal practitioners, governments, and civil society advocates around the world to advance access to justice and end gender-based violence.  The Center’s gender-justice initiatives include: 1) providing free legal research assistance to judges worldwide; 2) undertaking in-depth practice-oriented projects, which may be developed with judges; 3) maintains an online database of case law and other resources focused on gender justice; and 4) hosts an annual Women & Justice conference. To access the legal resources collection, please click here. To request assistance for legal research or another project, please click here.

International Courts: The Judicial Experience (Avon Global Center 2010 Women and Justice Conference).  See the Video.

The International Association of Women Judges works to increase women’s access to courts and to increase the number of women judges at all levels around the world. It conducts judicial trainings and issues a semi-annual newsletter in English. Members may participate in a Message Board to discuss topics of interest and interact with colleagues.


Tools for Forensic Professionals:

Guidelines for Medico-legal Care for Victims of Sexual Violence (World Health Organization, 2003); see “Forensic Specimens” (pp. 57-63).  Available in English.

A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Adults/Adolescents (United States Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, 2004). Available in English.

California Medical Protocol for Examination of Sexual Assault and Child Sexual Abuse Victims (Office of Criminal Justice Planning, California, USA, 2001). English.

Social Acquaintance Rape from Crime Classification Manual : A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crime (Douglas et al., 2006). Available in English.

Successfully Investigating Acquaintance Sexual Assault: A National Training Manual for Law Enforcement (The National Center for Women and Policing, 2001). Available in English.

Good Practice in Medical Responses to Recently Reported Rape, Especially Forensic Examinations (Kelly and Regan, 2003). English.

Guidelines for Medico-Legal Care of Victims of Sexual Violence (World Health Organization, 2003). English.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Programmes: Improving the Community Response to Sexual Assault Victims (Littel, 2001). English.

Recent Rape/Sexual Assault: National Guidelines on Referral and Forensic Clinical Examination in Ireland (National SATU Guidelines Development Group, 2010). English.