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Part Ill

Second Line Advocacy:
Strategies for Correcting Inadequate Criminal Justice Response


Advocacy Strategies and Options
  Face-to-Face Meetings with the Authorities
Enter Evidence into the Case Yourself
Put It in Writing! Put it in Writing! Put it in Writing!
Take It to the Courthouse Steps
Use Community Powers Outside the
Criminal Justice System
Go to the press
Organize and Demonstrate


It's critical for the safety and freedom of women everywhere that victims of violence against women and their advocates know how to put sufficient pressure on the criminal justice system when authorities fail to respond properly. The section that follows offers some of the strategies we've found to be most effective for correcting inadequate criminal justice responses to cases of violence against women.

Though most countries have laws in place to protect women from violence, the huge problem that remains throughout both the developed and developing world is a widespread unwillingness of criminal justice officials to enforce those laws. Until the intense sexism of our criminal justice agencies is corrected, women and their advocates should closely watchdog officials' handling of every case, and then be ready to take as strong action as is necessary to correct the frequent mishandling of these cases. And to keep escalating the pressure until the case is handled properly.

Remember, women's lives and women's freedom depend on proper criminal justice response. In fact, if you think about it, an inadequate criminal justice response to violence against women often puts women in more danger than they were in before going to officials for help. A weak response from officials emboldens perpetrators by giving perpetrators the message that their violence is no big deal. And it weakens victims by pushing them into a despair of ever obtaining the help and justice they deserve.

So don't be afraid to push the system until it responds properly to you. Justice and protection are both a right and a necessity for women everywhere.


Face-to-Face Meetings with the Authorities

If, after making a phone call or two to authorities, the problems on your client's case aren't corrected, a face-to-face meeting between an advocate, a victim, perhaps a support person, and a ranking official, can often turn the tide. These meetings can work not because you're applying particularly heavy handed tactics, but more because they bring into play the formidable persuasive powers of a face-to-face relationship. The official is literally made to come face-to-face with the victim's plight and related injustices, something higher officials rarely have to do. And he or she has to do so in the presence of you, the advocate, serving as the meeting's compass, as witness, and as a defender of the victim's rights. Many otherwise callous officials respond to such meetings by making abrupt improvements in the handling of the victim's case, and often by taking the case under their wing.

A face-to-face meeting with the brass can also yield benefits far beyond the immediate case. Face-to-face meetings can leave a lasting impression of your willingness to go up the ranks and to stand your ground for your client's rights. Just one well executed in-person meeting can quickly establish solid, long term working relationships with top officials. Future problems in the current or future cases can often then be resolved with no more than a quick phone call.

In deciding whether a face-to-face meeting is the right approach to your client's problem, it's also important to consider that these meetings can be more unpredictable than other means of pressuring authorities. You never quite know what the official's going to pull out of his or her hat, or how the victim's going to react. And there's no time to go back to the drawing board. You have to think on your feet.

The key, of course, to minimizing the risks, and to maximizing the enormous benefits of a face-to-face meeting, is good preparation of both yourself and your client ahead of time. The following tips are meant to help you and your client walk into meetings as a strong, unified team, and then to come out of the meeting with specific commitments from the official to set things right for your client and her case. Don't be discouraged by the length of details given here. Once you've done this a few times, the preparation will get to be second nature, and you'll find yourself putting these meetings together on a dime. And though we focus here on meetings with criminal justice officials, the same principles apply and can serve you in resolving problems of all sorts with any kind of official.

Meet with the Official Who has Direct Power Over the Situation.

Always choose to meet with an official who has enough power over the case that he or she can resolve the problems without having to consult with others. At times, this may be the case officer's direct supervisor. But depending on circumstances, it may require someone at least a rank or two higher up. And if the problems are severe, don't hesitate to go to the top.

When you make the appointment for the meeting, tell the person how many people are coming and who they are. The best make-up for these meetings is the victim, an advocate, and a support person of the victim's choice. It's best if that support person is someone who is willing and capable of taking notes. Meetings of just the victim and advocate are fine when the issues are minor.

When setting up the appointment, as a general rule, you should give a brief heading to the issues you want to discuss. But don't give too much information. If you begin going into detail on the phone, it's only natural the official will just try to resolve things then and there, on the phone. Giving too much detail also hands the official the means to put together a game plan for dispensing with you quickly in the meeting, if that's his want.

If an official refuses to set a meeting with you, call directly to the person's supervisor. There's no one who has more call for a person-to-person meeting with criminal justice officials than a victim of violent crime who is unhappy with the handling of her case. It's not acceptable for an official to say "No" to such a meeting. And, in our experience, it's rare that they do refuse such a request.

NOTE: Victims shouldn't meet with top officials alone - particularly when there are already problems in the case. The law enforcement tendency to defend their positions - no matter how wrong - with obfuscations, intimidations, and manipulations, is far too strong for victims to deal with on their own. If you are a victim reading this, it's important that you find a good advocate who will accompany you to any meeting you want to set up with law enforcement to correct a wrong.

Preparing for the Meeting

Define a short, clear set of goals, complaints, and supporting points

When you go into the meeting, you, your client, and the support person should have an tight outline of the victim's main goals, complaints, and supporting points. It should all fit on a half a sheet of paper and be easy to read at a glance.

Start with the Goals

Start early to clarify the goals of the meeting, even as part of deciding whether or not a meeting is the way you want to go. Once you've discussed the goals, suggest that your client take some time by herself to think them over. It's essential that the goals, as well as all other plans for the meeting, truly represent the victim's wishes.

Articulate the goals in terms of specific commitments you and she would like to have from the official when you leave the meeting. Be sure to attach time and follow-up commitments to the goals - otherwise there will be too much wiggle room for an official to slip out of commitments later. For example, if an official agrees to assign a new detective to the case, ask that the official call you back within a day to let you know the name of the new detective and in what time frame the detective will be contacting you or the victim. Always nail it down tight. (And in the meeting, always write down the exact terms when the commitment is made.)

Once you and the victim know the goals, condense them in as precise language as possible. Write them down in neat, abbreviated form. Once in a meeting, you'd be amazed how easy it is to get swept up in a discussion or side conversation, and completely forget even key goals and important points you wanted to make.

In fact, purposely diverting the meeting off point is one way officials can sabotage your goals. They just run the clock. Traumatized victims are so vulnerable to kindly inquires about their children, or their schoolwork, or whatever other hurt the official picks up on, that things can easily be completely swept off course by talkative, sweet sounding officials. So arm the victim and her team with a clear set of goals, and a pre-agreement to help keep each other on track.

Naturally, having a well defined set of goals doesn't mean you get everything you want. But it does set up your team to present an impressive united front no matter what the shifts of the meeting. It's the first step in preventing officials from diverting and dividing you.

Here are examples of the kinds of goals victims may have: Getting a new detective or new prosecutor assigned to a case, getting an investigation reopened, reviewed, or expanded, setting officer/victim/advocate communication standards for the case, getting neglected leads investigated or neglected witnesses interviewed, getting more appropriate charges filed, ending case delays, withdrawing unjust plea bargains, reconsidering a rejected case for prosecution, getting cases sent back to the police from the DA's office for further investigation, getting the official to quell workplace, family, or school harassment of the victim.

In Addition to Goals, Make a List of the Main Complaints, and a List of the Main Supporting Points You Want to Make.

Make a list of the case complaints that are the basis for the meeting. Help the victim prioritize and condense the list. This will help her immeasurably when it comes time for her (or you) to describe the problems in the meeting.

Not surprisingly, during meetings victims can all too easily stray into emotional retelling of the outrages the perpetrator has done to her. When victims do that, it gives the official the opportunity to sympathetically gush all over her in feigned alliance with her, which, in turn, makes it next to impossible for the victim to turn back around and stick to the goal of making demands on the official.

The process of making the list of case complaints is a good time to explain this dynamic to the victim. Clarify for her that the meeting is about correcting the outrages of what the authorities have done to her, not what the perpetrator has done. The urgency of the meeting certainly ultimately stems from what the perpetrator did. But the purpose is to focus on the misbehavior of the authorities. Once understanding this, most victims will work to keep that distinction in mind during the meeting. The list of complaints she'll have in her hand will strengthen that focus. In addition, the condensed list of complaints will minimize the amount of meeting time spent on describing the problem, and move the meeting quickly into nailing down exactly how the problems are going to get solved.

The third and final list you and the victim should make before going into the meeting is a list of the main supporting points of argument you want to put forth. The reason for this list should be obvious. The last thing you want to do is forget to lay out your best supporting points. And it's worth repeating, forgetting something important in the broil of a face-to-face meeting is so easy to do. As with the other lists. Prioritize it, condense it, and write it down.

NOTE: Sometimes victims want the advocate to do most of the talking in the meeting, including delineating her complaints. It's always better if the victim can speak for herself. But even if she wants you to do it, it's even more important that you've carefully gone over all the main points with your client. Tell her that even if you do most of the talking, at the very least, she has to be willing to affirm to the official, her agreement with what you're saying.

But there's an interesting thing that happens in these meetings when you, the advocate, have carefully made sure you're right on the same page with the victim. Even if she's said she wants you to do most of the talking, victims often surprise themselves a few minutes into the meeting by picking up the conversation and taking over for herself. That, by itself, is a satisfying reward of good advocacy. It means you've set a solid, safe stage for a traumatized victim's voice to come forth to power.

Together, the three lists — the main goals, the main problems, and the main supporting points — should all fit neatly on one page of a steno pad, or on a half a sheet of paper.

Here's an example:


  • get a new detective assigned to the case
  • get a commitment that the detective returns phone calls within 24 hours to the victim and advocate
  • interview witnesses A, B, and C this week
  • get a commitment that the Victim can bring a support person and/or advocate to any meeting with detective


  • Previous detective was insulting/blaming to victim
    • example 1 - his positive comment about the perpetrator
    • example 2 - his negative comment about victim behavior
  • For three weeks, detective has failed to interview key, easily accessible witnesses
  • He's failed to return phone calls
  • Detective denied victim request to have support person during interview

Supporting Points:

  • The detective has demonstrated so much unacceptable bias in the case that victim has lost all confidence in detective
  • Victim cooperated fully with detective
  • Victim has legal right to support person in LE meetings
  • Rape is way too serious to the victim and community to tolerate sloppy investigation

What If's

One of the more surprising turns these meetings can take is that within five minutes of your arrival the official agrees to everything you ask. It happens that way more often than you might think. So be prepared for continuing the conversation with ideas about how these problems can be prevented on future cases.

Most often, however, officials will at least go through some ritual defense of his officer's handling of the case, lay out some high sounding or intimidating legal bluster, and make a few test stabs at undermining you, the case, or the victim. But, if you do a half way decent job of responding, massaging, and prodding, the official will generally come around to granting much of what you want. Why? Because the official is fully aware the job was done wrong and it should be done right. At the other extreme, the official may be dug in, intimidating, and immovable. Or any combination of the above as you move from discussing one aspect of the case to the next.

So it's important to work through a couple 'what if' scenarios with the victim. Naturally, you can't anticipate or plan for all possibilities. But if you work through a game plan on one or two scenarios, you and the victim will get a good feel for how to work together on any eventuality. As the advocate, you'll get that all important sense of your client's comfort level for various tactics. And your client will get the essential confidence that you're going to handle the meeting according to her agenda and style, and not according to yours.


Here's one 'what if' that we go through with every victim - because it happens so often, because it can happen at any kind of meeting, and because if you don't get through this particular scenario, the meeting is sunk before it starts. The scenario is this:

The official comes out and greets everyone in the waiting area, and then announces that he or she will only meet with the victim, alone. It doesn't matter that you had already informed the official on the phone as to who all would be attending. This is a trick, and like all tricks, it's underhanded. Don't be surprised. Don't be flustered. Be prepared.

A rationale often given by officials for 'needing' to meet alone with the victim is that if others come into the meeting, it will make them witnesses in the case. This rationale is totally bogus for reasons we won't go into here. In fact, this is another common trick within the trick; i.e. using high sounding, but bogus, legal threats to make the victim think she'll wreck the case even worse if she doesn't do what the official wants. Or another common rationale (trick) given for needing to meet with the victim alone is that the official implies he knows some dark secret about the victim's past, - and he doesn't want to embarrass her in front of others. Since everyone has secrets, this can easily throw any victim into panic. The real reason, of course, that officials want to meet with the victim alone is to separate the victim from her support system so the official can easily manipulate the victim to his (or her) position.

Clearly, if your client isn't prepared for this opening set of ploys by the official to split the team, she will be caught very off guard, very uncomfortable, and torn by what to do. In all likelihood, with no preparation the end result would be that the victim goes into the meeting on her own.

So educate your client to the dynamics, especially as to why an official would do this. Tell her that even if she wants you to do most of the talking, that, at some point, she's going to have to be able to clearly state her stance to the official - because inevitably, and correctly, the official will turn to her as the final authority on how the meeting takes place. If you and she agree that there will be no meeting without her team, the victim's going to have to be able to state that clearly, in no uncertain terms, straight to the official's face. If that's what she wants, help her work out some smooth words to be able to express her stance comfortably. "I really want to cooperate with you and with the investigation. But I definitely want to have my support persons with me. I don't have any secrets from these people."

With a little preparation, victims handle this just fine. Without preparation, the official who pulls this move will almost certainly succeed in separating your team before the meeting even starts.

So discuss the details with your client: Is she willing (and able) to take the lead in arguing with the official? Or would she prefer that you do it? If initial persuasion doesn't open up the meeting, is she willing to give the ultimatum that if her support persons aren't allowed in the meeting, that she will not meet alone? How far is she willing to go? No meeting without everyone? Or does she just want you (or herself) to try to persuade the official to allow everyone in, but if that persuasion doesn't work, she would like to have the meeting alone with the official anyway? What are your back up moves?

One effective response in this situation (and in many other situations) is to throw the heat right back onto the official as fast as possible, and to keep it there. "Are you saying that you're not willing to discuss this victim's complaints unless she's alone with you?" "Certainly you're capable of finding a way to discuss the issues while restraining yourself from embarrassing the victim." "Certainly you can find a way to control yourself from revealing evidence you don't want revealed." On the rare occasions when an official will not give in to opening the meeting to all, a final move will usually do the trick. "We're going to just walk down the hall to the chief's office right now if that's your final position."

One other scenario that you should go through with the victim is to brainstorm the official's most likely argument against your most important goals and formulate your best response.

One general fall back position for almost any kind of roadblock is to communicate to the official that you're not there to ask for favors, you're there to get wrongs corrected and rights implemented. Make it clear that that the problems in the case must and will get remedied one way or another. That it's vital to the victim's safety, the community's safety, and the victim's right to justice. That if you can't get the issues resolved here, you're going to go wherever you have to go until the problems get resolved.

NOTE: Many victims have an intuitive understanding of why so many criminal justice officials will go to such obnoxious lengths to get out of doing these cases properly. They understand that it's not personal against her. They understand that it's a sexist patriarchal system that doesn't want to expend time, energy, and power on behalf of women. That it's a sexist system with many of the same attitudes that foster violence against women in the first place. And that that's why women still have to fight hard just to get the justice they deserve.

At the same time there are many women who don't understand this at all. Making sure your client understands these dynamics is her best protection against all the unpredictable obfuscations, bullying, intimidating, hide the ball, tricks the official may try to pull.

NOTE: No matter how much your preparation, there may be times in these meetings when you're not sure what your client wants you to do, or times where your client suddenly melts down and agrees to the official's arguments against her goals. When this happens, it's perfectly reasonable to turn your attention completely to your client and converse with her. Tell the official something to the effect of, "Let me take just a moment to talk with Andrea." Then focus totally on your client as if the official isn't there. Clarify a point with her, suggest she put off a final decision until later, express your opinion, or whatever is appropriate to the situation. The point being, it does not matter that the official is there listening. There are occasions in these meetings when you'll want to get realigned with your client. Don't hesitate to create the space you need.

Floating Threats and Ultimatums — Or Not

It's not usually necessary to float threats and ultimatums to get what you want. But on the occasion when you need it, it's a powerful option to have. Floating threats and ultimatums is also something most women don't feel comfortable doing, something most women are, in fact, raised not to do - precisely because it is so powerful. So it takes practice to learn how to do it smoothly, comfortably, and as a matter of routine. It's a backup tool you always want to have on hand. Floating threats in a friendly tone is one of advocacy's highest, most effective, and most versatile arts.

It's a good idea to have a brief discussion with your client about what you and she want to do next if the official doesn't agree to the goals - and whether it's a next step you want to float in the meeting or not. Would she want to go further up the ranks? Go to the press? Write letters? Go to the city council? the Court house steps? or would she simply want to drop it at that point? etc. And then discuss the words you'd use to do it, and ask if it feels right to her. If it does not, don't do it.

The Meeting

Meet Before the Meeting

Much of the preparation we've discussed so far can be done between you and the victim, and often can be done over the phone. But at some point, it's crucial that everyone on the victim's team meet in person before going into the official meeting. The very best, timesaving way to do this is for everyone to meet an hour before the scheduled meeting in a coffee shop near the location of the scheduled meeting.

The main purpose of this pre-meeting is to get everyone comfortable and focused together. Go over the main points. Ask each other last minute questions. Join your forces and focus. Put all personal concerns aside. Remind the victim that this is not about the injustices of what the perpetrator did to her, it's to correct the injustices of the mishandling of the case.

The last minute focus should be on clearly setting the tone. Get everyone to think friendly, professional, focused and firm. Remind yourselves that you're not asking for favors. You're advocating for the women's rights. There's nothing that takes precedence over a woman's safety in the community. There is no excuse for your public officials to shortchange women's rights to protection and justice.

It's Invaluable, if not crucial, to Have Someone with You Who Can Focus on Taking Notes.

Everyone in the meeting should have a pen and small notebook ready in hand during the meeting. Ideally, however, the victim and the advocate should be primarily focused on the interactions with the official, and not on taking notes. Nonetheless, there are key things that you, the advocate, should be alert to taking down: namely, preposterous and incorrect rationales given by the official, points of evidence, and details of commitments. If you don't get those points fully written down during the meeting, make sure you take a few moments immediately after the meeting to flesh out your notes on those points.

The very best situation is if you have a support person in the meeting who can take a good set of more general notes throughout the meeting. When you have someone in the meeting taking notes - no matter how knowledgeably or effectively - it prevents 90% of officials' tendencies to put forth their preposterous legal inventions and deceptions that are so common in the law enforcement culture. When someone is taking notes, it cuts much of the bluff and bluster. It puts the official on notice that their words might come back to bite them.

Taking notes also makes it much less likely that officials will make promises in the meeting that they really don't intend to keep.

Taking notes immediately informs the official that the purpose of the meeting is not to pacify the victim. It's serious. It's business. And it's goal oriented.

A support person who sits in the background of the meeting taking notes can be one of your most potent allies in the meeting. Aside from a friendly greeting introducing herself as a friend of the victim, she doesn't have to say a word. In fact, it can even add to her potency, the less she says. The other approach, of course, is if the victim does have someone of stature in the community who is willing to serve as her support person. Having a professor, employer, minister, etc. who comes into the meeting taking notes and asking a question now and then can up the potency another notch yet.

Be Friendly, Be Professional, Be Focused. Be Unshakable. Be Goal Oriented.

This doesn't mean no small talk. In fact, an ease of moving in and out of some small talk is often the lubrication for getting what you want out of the more difficult, adversarial parts of the meeting. But be very alert that the official doesn't take the meeting or the victim off track with diversionary side trips. A good general rule to lay out before the meeting is 15% small talk, 85% business, and an agreement to help each other stick to it.

And one other thing. Slow down and take your time. There's is always a certain level of anxiety in these meetings, even for the most experienced. Be mindful of time so that the clock doesn't run out. But take time to breathe, listen, and center your thoughts.

Always Rearticulate All Commitments and then Summarize Commitments Out Loud at the End of the Meeting

Always repeat back all commitments in all their details, both as you go along in the meeting, and again at the end of the meeting. Say things like, "So just to make sure I got it right, you're going to ............Is that right?" Do the same with a full summary of commitments at the end of the meeting. Also, at the end of the meeting, make sure everyone has each other's full contact information.

Debrief with Your Team After the Meeting

People's perceptions about what happened in a meeting can vary greatly. Even the most experienced advocate can miss vital points as you focus on other vital points. Also, during meetings, loose ends of feelings and thoughts are often left hanging. And so too are incipient ideas about what to do next. So always plan on spending some time after the meeting talking it all over. Fleshing out your notes. Bolstering your client. Setting follow-up communications. And congratulating yourselves on a job well done for women's rights.



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Women's Justice Center,

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