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Working with victim/witness advocates on maintaining effective communication with survivors

Last edited: December 23, 2011

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Although prosecutors have the primary responsibility to keep victims informed, victim/witness advocates can act as a liaison between the victim and the prosecutor by providing important knowledge about the upcoming court processes to survivors. They can enhance a victim’s safety, and ability and willingness to be an effective witness. Advocates can also provide emotional support. When victims feel supported and have an idea of what to expect, they are more likely to help in the prosecution of their case. Prosecution will be facilitated and more perpetrators will be convicted. Prosecutors and advocates can enhance prosecutions by:

  • Informing survivors of their rights in the case.
  • Working to coordinate victim services/witness care throughout the criminal proceeding and to coordinate support services so that survivors are not re-traumatized. For example, Thuthuzela Care Centres in South Africa provide a full range of services for survivors, from counseling to legal and medical assistance.
  • Informing victims of court policies and procedures relevant to their case, including setting terms and conditions of bond, release dates, trial and sentencing dates, and other relevant information regarding sentencing or post-trial motions.
  • Orienting victims and their families to courtroom procedures and the upcoming trial process so that they understand what is expected of them at each stage.
  • Advance notice of details of all hearings related to the case, including location and times of hearings.
  • Providing victims with information on how to travel safely to and from court.
  • Accompanying victims to court hearings.
  • Explaining all prosecutorial decisions and the reasons for the decisions, including decisions made to drop the case.
  • Offering opportunities for survivors to provide input into the case.
  • Offering opportunities for survivors to voice their fears about the perpetrator or the court process.
  • Being responsive to survivor questions about the risks and benefits of testifying, and the risks and benefits of not testifying.
  • Coordinating victim contact with psychologists, psychiatrists, and forensic professionals so that victims do not have to repeat necessary forensic exams and other procedures.
  • Assisting victims in obtaining civil protection orders and other protective measures which are available to survivors, such as no contact orders and courtroom safety measures.
  • Giving victims information on how to enforce court orders and what to do if an order is violated.
  • Offering information on the effect and consequences of the court’s judgment and the appeals process.
  • Informing the survivor when the perpetrator is released from jail or discharged from a perpetrator programme.
  • Assisting victims in obtaining restitution  or reparation of damages (payment from the perpetrator for damages incurred as a result of the crime, such as lost wages and property damages) and state compensation if available (a programme offered by some states to provide financial help to victims of crime). They will enable survivors to rebuild their lives and may prevent them from returning to an abuser. Strategies include:
    • Providing victims with information about compensation and restitution in writing.
    • Making the provision of compensation obligatory so that victim credibility is not compromised by a request for compensation. (Rosenburg, 2008).
    • Prioritize restitution or reparation of damages, and organize the payment system so that victims receive the money ahead of court costs, fines, and penalties.
    • Monitor scheduled payments for compliance.
    • Establish mechanisms to pursue claims independent of victim action.
    • Incorporate lost wages, relocation costs, and property damages into restitution payments.
    • Employ collection means such as wage attachments, whereby a fixed amount is sent from the perpetrator’s payroll to the survivor, and property seizure, where assets of the perpetrator may be sold to produce resources for the victim, when necessary.
  • Providing assistance for victims in applying for compensation from state government programmes.
  • Assisting victims in completing victim impact statements.
  • Providing victims with referrals to a full range of social support services, such as crisis counseling, emergency housing, safety planning, and legal assistance. A victim who is safe will be a more effective witness.
  • Maintaining confidentiality of victim’s contact information. Contact information should be kept separate from court files to avoid inadvertent disclosure to perpetrators.
  • Informing victims about all information, such as police reports, that will be released to the perpetrator.
  • If victim/witness teams do not provide full confidentiality to survivors, providing survivors with an understandable written policy regarding victim/witness team confidentiality.
  • Informing victims of considerations that were taken to ensure a survivor’s safety in the prosecutor’s assessment and preparation of the case.
  • Informing victims of considerations that were taken regarding a survivor’s wish not to testify, including considerations of her cultural and religious beliefs, before requiring a survivor to testify via subpoena.
  • Informing victims of possible use of a subpoena, or an order for the accused to appear in court. Subpoenas can alleviate the pressure on a victim from the abuser to drop charges. If a victim appears in court, her out-of-court statements will likely be admissible as evidence, and she will gain more information about her case. Subpoenas also provide the survivor with documentation of the necessity to leave work.
  • Informing victims of consequences of disobeying a subpoena. Prosecutors should understand that a victim of violence may have important reasons for failure to appear. Prosecutors should use their best judgment and discretion in each case to consider whether a citation for contempt, the crime of deliberately failing to obey or respect the authority of the court, is an appropriate response (National District Attorney’s Association, 2004).

Kenya – Men Support Survivors of Violence

Men for Gender Equality Now, a civil society organization in Kenya, provides support for survivors of violence in court proceedings by attending court in red T-shirts with anti-violence messages on them. The group also helps survivors to access medical and legal services.


Source: Men for Gender Equality Now and The African Women’s Development and Communication Network. 2010. Defying the Odds : Lessons learnt from Men for Gender Equality Now.


Peru – Community Defenders Programme wins Award

The Legal Defense Institute created a community response to domestic violence called “Community Defenders” which operates through community legal defense offices. Besides offering psychological support to the victims, the defenders accompany the victims to legal proceedings of the cases brought against aggressors. The project proved to be an innovative, low cost way to mobilize the community. Its impact was increased by the strong alliances project implementers formed with the justice sector.


Source: ECLAC. 2009. No more! The right of women to live a life free of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean  

Tools for Victim Advocacy:

Service Charter for Victims of Crime in South Africa (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development). Rights of victims of crime, complaint information. English.

Uniform Protocol for the Management of Victims, Survivors, and Witnesses of Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences (National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa). A resource for service providers, traditional leaders, and others. Comprehensive set of minimum standards in service delivery, monitoring of services, and governance of service delivery. Available in English.

Victim Advocacy Training and Technical Assistance (US Department of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime). English.

Regional Victim/Witness Protection Protocol to Combat Trafficking, Commercial Exploitation and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children in South Asia (Regional Action Forum on Improving the Interpretation of Laws Protecting Women and Children). English.

International Framework for Action to Implement the Trafficking in Persons Protocol (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2009). See page 26 for victim protection protocol. English.

Code for Crown Prosecutors (United Kingdom Crown Prosecution Service). General principles for Crown Prosecutors on decisions to prosecute. Available in English, Welsh, Arabic, Bengali, French, Gujurati, Polish, Punjabi, Somali, Tamil, Traditional Chinese, Urdu, and an English Easy Read Version.

Core Quality Standards (United Kingdom Crown Prosecution Service). Standards for service quality for prosecutors and staff. Available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Gujarati, Polish, Punjabi, Somali, Tamil, Urdu, and Welsh.

The Home Office of the government of the United Kingdom provides victims of sexual offenses with an informative webpage, including a virtual walkthrough that describes court processes and a video on testifying in court for witnesses. A brochure on victim impact statements is available in English. Information on how victim impact statements may be used is available in English and Spanish. A brochure on victim impact statements for children is available in English.

Annex F, Crown Prosecution Services, Delivery by CPS (United Kingdom Crown Prosecution Services). Victim service standards for prosecutors. Available in English.

The Crown Prosecution Services Prosecutors’ Pledge (United Kingdom Crown Prosecution Services).  Pledge to victims or family members of victims. Available in English.

Le Guide des Droits des Victimes (Republique Française, Ministère de la Justice). A handbook for women victims of violence and their advocates. French.

Victims of Crime Protocol: What victims of crime can expect from the criminal justice system (Victim Services Branch, Alberta, Canada, 2007) Created by the collaborative effort of victims, police, prosecutors, medical examiners, and court service providers. English.

Information on Domestic Violence (Alaska, USA Department of Law, Criminal Division, 2010). English.

Information on Safety Planning (Alaska, USA Department of Law, Criminal Division, 2010). English.  

Information on Sexual Assault (Alaska, USA Department of Law, Criminal Division, 2010). English.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, USA, offers a website on Reporting the Crime to the Police with information on reporting, what to do immediately after a rape, forensic evidence, and punishing rapists.

Tips and Guidelines to Prevent and Report Violence Against Women (Fundación Sobrivientes, Guatemala, 2010). Spanish.