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Part Ill

How to Write an Effective Letter
to Make the System Work for You

When authorities fail to respond properly to violence against women and children, victims and their supporters need a simple, effective means to push officials to do the job right. The most effective, everyday tool we've used over the years is a short, concise letter, fueled by strong c: list at the end of the letter, and by a couple other key ingredients. If a phone call or two hasn't gotten the system to quickly correct its response to your case, putting together your own letter may be just the remedy you need.

You may doubt that a simple letter can do the job. Or you may feel intimidated just by the thought of writing a letter. But stick with it. We're going to give you an easy-to-follow letter formula. It's a formula that we've used hundreds of times to make officials take notice and to quickly correct their responses to women's cases. It's also a formula that you can adapt for many different needs; whether you need to push to get your case fully investigated, or reinvestigated, or to stop an official's abusiveness, or to press a district attorney to file proper charges, or to get bad custody decisions reversed, to get your questions answered, or just to adjust an official's attitude.

As with all remedies, you should remember there are no guarantees that it will work 100%, and you need to consider your own circumstances in deciding whether this is the right remedy for you. But if you want reluctant officials to make rapid improvements in your case, we have found these letters to be highly effective. You shouldn't be shy about taking this action and making officials respond properly to you. Another thing to remember is to always adapt the recommendations we give below to meet your specific needs.

We start with a sample letter that we'll use to illustrate the steps that follow for writing your own letter.


Sample Letter
(This letter is fictitious.)

October 5, 2005

Dear Police Chief Andy Boyd,

I am the victim in the rape case against Daniel Jones which I reported to your department on September 10, 2005. I am writing to express my concerns about the way my case has been handled so far, and to ask your help in resolving these problems as soon as possible.

Three weeks ago, Detective Rich was assigned to my rape case. Detective Rich interviewed me on September 15. And he hasn't talked to me since. I have called Detective Rich and left messages on his phone three times in the last two weeks. He has never called me back.

In addition, in the first phone message that I left the detective two weeks ago, I gave the detective the full names and phone numbers of two witnesses who saw me with my clothes torn after the rape. During the interview, the detective had asked me to get this information for him. When I talked to these witnesses yesterday, they both said the detective hadn't contacted them yet. These are just some of the concerns I have.

I am very upset that the detective hasn't returned my phone calls and that he hasn't interviewed important witnesses in my rape case. The rapist told me he would make me sorry if I called the police. But I trusted that police would treat the rape and my safety seriously. And now I am living in more fear than ever.

Please look into this and call me as soon as possible. I would like to talk with you right after you receive this letter. I can be reached at my work during normal business hours at 666-3150, and at my home at 777-2211.

I am also requesting that you immediately assign another detective to my case, and that this new detective quickly carry out a complete investigation of the case. And I'm asking that you please instruct the new detective to keep me informed of the investigation and to return my phone calls within 24 hours.

I'm sure you agree this needs to be corrected without delay. I'm sure that as chief of police, you want to assure that I am safe and that all women in the community are safe from rapists like Daniel Jones.

Thank you for your help.



Anita Garcia
case victim

c: Mayor Tony Perez and Santa Rita City Council Members
Chair Linda Rogers and Santa Rita Domestic Violence
Council Members
Mary Martinez, Director, Santa Rita Rape Crisis Center
District Attorney Martha Wilson
Martin Brown, California Police Chiefs Association
Other Community Members

Six Steps to Writing Your Letter

1. The c: list, the Dynamite at the End of the Letter

We start at the end of the letter with the c: list because you may still have doubts that a simple letter can really make a difference. It's usually the c: list, which is placed below your signature, that gives your letter the punch it needs to make the system move. The c: stands for "copies". So the c: list is a list of all the other persons to whom you are sending a copy of the letter. This list will likely make the difference between a letter that gets ignored or thrown away, and a letter that will get the results you want.

Look at the bottom of the sample letter to see how a typical c: list appears. Because of the c: list in this letter, the police chief to whom the letter is addressed, will see immediately that a lot of other powerful people are reading the same letter as he is, and he'll know that they are now also fully informed of your complaint. The c: list virtually puts these powerful people in the same room with the chief, reading your letter over his shoulder.

The c: list works because it lets the the chief know that you are not afraid to make your complaint public. You are no longer just a lowly victim voicing your complaint in isolation. You've brought the DA, the mayor, the attorney general, women's advocates, and a host of other powerful people into the room with you - and all eyes are on the chief.

How to Put Together the C: List for Your Letter:
Here's is a list of the kinds of people you can consider including in your letter's cc list. Naturally, you don't have to include them all, or you may think of others we haven' listed here. Don't get overwhelmed thinking about creating your own list. It doesn't take long to put the names and addresses of all these people together. They're high profile people, so the correct spelling of their names and their addresses are just a phone call away. Or, these days, you can easily gather all this information at one sitting on the Internet.

Your c: list can include:

Local Public Officials - e.g., the mayor, city council members, the district attorney, judges, etc.,

Local Leaders and Groups - e.g., women's rights organizations, a local journalist who covers the police beat, a prominent clergy person, other high profile leaders

State and National Officials - e.g., the State Police Chiefs Association, State District Attorney's Association

"Other Community Members" - We usually write in "Other Community Members" at the bottom of our c: list because this lets the official know we're willing to distribute the letter far beyond the initial list, especially if the official doesn't take care of business quickly.

"The Press" - Including "The Press" on your c: list requires a little more consideration. Criminal justice officials are notoriously uncomfortable about being criticized in the press. So indicating your willingness to go to the press can exert a lot of pressure. On the other hand, if you're not certain that you're really willing to go to the press, or, if it's not certain that the press will actually do anything even if you do, then it's probably better to leave this item off your list.

Be Creative - Think of other people who are relevant to your case - anyone, from neighbors who care about you, to school principals, to public officials.


2. A Couple Things to Keep in Mind as You Sit Down to Write Your Letter:

Don't be Intimidated: Violence against women and children is extremely harmful and dangerous to you and to the community. It's crucial for everyone that officials respond properly to your case. You have rights. These public officials work for you. And they have obligations to you. You have a right to protection, justice, and respect. And you have a right to complain loudly when officials don't work hard to give you these things.

Don't be shy! Your letter doesn't have to be perfect! Don't agonize over phrases. If you find yourself getting stuck obsessing over one part of the letter or another, it's time to call in a friend to sit beside you and help.

Keep it Short: A short letter is easier to write, and just as important, a short letter will get read. A one page letter is the best. Since no one can fit their whole story on one page, what you have to do is pick the two or three most important points, and then indicate in the letter that there is more to tell. This was done in the sample letter just by saying, "These are just some of the concerns I have". If you have trouble figuring out which are the most important points, get a friend to sit beside you and help you write the letter.

Keep Emotions to a Minimum: This can be very difficult for victims of violence, especially if you've been additionally victimized by the authorities. Keep in mind that the purpose of the letter is not to vent your emotions. The purpose is to get improvements in the way your case is being handled. At the same time, your letter shouldn't be emotionless, either. Again, turn to a friend if you aren't sure about what's too much or too little. But most of all, remember, it doesn't have to be perfect.

Get Help from a Friend: A friend can help you in a lot of ways. They can sit beside you to help write the letter. Sometimes all it takes is for them to just sit in the same room with you to keep you focused as you write. Or, they can help by reading the letter after you've finished. And some friends may want to sign the letter with you, too, a variation we'll describe later.

Protect Your Confidentiality if You Wish: If you don't want to make your name public to the people in your c: list, here's what to do. In the copies of the letter that you send out to the people on the c: list, simply black out your name, your phone number, and any other personal information that would make you identifiable.


3. Writing the Body of the Letter

* In General, Address Your Letter to the Highest Person in Charge of Dealing with Your Problem. For example, if a police officer mishandled your case, address your letter to the police chief. If you're having problems in the courtroom, address your letter to the judge. If the prosecutor (deputy district attorney or assistant district attorney) is the problem, address your letter to the district attorney.

* The First Paragraph Should Be a Quick Summary of Who You Are, Why You're Writing, and What You Want. The first paragraph in the Sample Letter is a typical first paragraph that you can easily adapt to your own situation.

Here's a couple variations:

If you're an victim advocate writing on behalf of your client, here's a first paragraph we use time and again.

We're writing on behalf of our client, Jane Doe, in regard to her rape case that was reported to your department on June 10, 2005. We're writing to express our concerns with how the case has been handled, and to ask your immediate help in getting corrections made.

Or, if two or three supporters are writing the letter with you and will be signing the letter with you, start the letter by writing:

We're writing along with Jane Doe to express our concerns about...

* The Second and Third Paragraph - Summarize the History of the Problem and Your Complaint. This is where many victims have trouble condensing down what may be a very long, difficult story. And, in fact, you may actually need more than two paragraphs to do it. One thought that might help you keep it as short as possible is to remind yourself again that the purpose of the letter isn't so much to tell your story, nor to go into detail about what the perpetrator did to you. The purpose of your letter is to protest a problem you have with officials who are mishandling your case. So you only have tell enough of your story so that those who read your letter can understand the context of your complaint and requests.

If you still have trouble putting this section together, take a separate piece of paper and make a list - not a discussion, make a list - of all the things you feel officials did wrong in handling your case. Take your time doing it. Then pick the three most serious points on your list and build your letter paragraphs on these three points.

And don't forget to include a sentence in your letter to indicate that you have more to tell. Remember this sentence in the sample letter. "These are just some of the concerns I have."

Note to Advocates: Sadly, many advocates hesitate to write letters for their clients because they feel they can't be 100% certain that their clients are telling them the truth about how the case is being mishandled. The fact is, you're never going to be 100% certain that your client is telling you the truth. But that should never be an excuse not to advocate vigorously for your client. So here's how to advocate vigorously within the framework that you can never be 100% sure of the facts.

As you tell your client's story, just use introductory phrases such as, "According to the victim,...." or "The victim says...", etc., and you'll never go wrong.

* Fourth Paragraph - Explain the Harmful Consequences You've Suffered Because of the Mishandling of Your Case. This is a good place to express some of your emotions and fears as is done in the sample letter..

* Fifth and Sixth Paragraph - Be Very Clear about What You Want, and When You Want It. You would be amazed how often people write very good letters expressing their complaint, and then they forget to write this most important part of the letter - spelling out exactly what you want, and when you want it. Saying exactly what you want and when you want it does not always mean you'll get it 100%. But it does mean that you have set the bar against which the chief and everyone who reads the letter will measure the chief's response.

So be sure and say exactly what you want and when you want it. Don't forget to include complete information about how to contact you.

* Seventh Paragraph: it Is Very Appropriate to Remind the Official That He or She Has Obligations to Provide Safety and Justice to You and the Community. Don't hesitate to say it in your own words.


4. Your Signature and Signature Options:

It's perfectly ok if you are the only person that signs your letter. However, like a cc list, having other people sign the letter with you can add to the power of your letter, even if it's just a friend who signs with you.

So here's what the signature section of your letter would look like if there are others who will be signing with you. Then they would simply sign over their name.



Anita Garica Gloria Rodriguez Nancy Arturo
Case Victim Victim Advocate Anita's Friend

5. Before Sending Your Letter, Double Check!

These 'don't forgets' may seem obvious. But when you're under stress, it's very easy to forget things that are obvious. So after you've written your letter go over this Double Check List just to make sure you've covered them all.

Double Check:

  • To make sure that you've dated your letter,
  • To make sure you've included your contact information,
  • To make sure you've typed the c: list at the end
    of the letter,
  • To send a copy of your letter to everyone on the
    c: list,
  • To make extra copies of your letter for yourself.
6. Follow Through

Always follow through! If, for example, the chief doesn't get back to you in a couple days as the letter requests, then it's time for you to make the call to the chief. And if your call doesn't get a response, then go to one of the people on the c: list. In the case of the sample letter, a good first person to go to would be the mayor or one of the city council members.

But in all likelihood, that won't be necessary. In our experience, letters that follow this form get a very fast response from even the most stubborn officials.

* * If you need help putting your letter together, and if you do not live in Sonoma County, go to Expert Help for Women.



Feel free to photocopy and distribute this information as long as you keep the credit and text intact.
Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

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