Retraumatization in Family Courts
37 Pages Posted: 17 May 2019
Date Written: May 7, 2019
In addition to the indignities associated with the violence, intimate partner violence survivors very often risk being re-traumatized when trying to access the justice system. The “Me Too” movement has shed light on how survivors of sexual assault and harassment often experience victim-blaming and other types of retraumatization when they try to tell their stories. But few legal scholars have written about the retraumatization that occurs when survivors of intimate partner violence attempt to seek help through the courts. This retraumatization risk presents a barrier to effective justice: it has a chilling effect on the criminal prosecutions of domestic violence crimes and deters civil domestic relations and dependency actions, including child custody trials.
This article details how family courts are implicated in retraumatization and is the first to propose cross-cultural communication to improve the quality of justice for survivors of intimate partner violence. Adequate justice in family courts requires combatting an institutional culture that all too frequently trivializes the impacts of intimate partner violence.
While adapting the legal process to address this problem is a long-term task, the focus of this Article is to lay out more immediate strategies for advocates of survivors of intimate partner violence to improve the experience of their clients. Key to this urgent endeavor are: (1) employing “habits” of cross-cultural communication to better prepare our clients for how retraumatizing the legal system can be; and (2) expanding the services provided by legal services organizations, including law school clinics, to include supportive services such as case-management and counseling.
Keywords: domestic partner abuse, domestic violence, family courts, cross-cultural communication
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