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Prosecutors, Kids, and Domestic Violence Cases

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 248 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 2-9
Date Published
March 2002
8 pages
Publication Series
This article examines some of the issues prosecutors should consider when they handle domestic violence cases that involve children.
This paper was developed using two sources of data: a national telephone survey of prosecutors and field research in five jurisdictions. This exploratory study sought to determine how new laws now in effect in a small number of States are affecting practice, what challenges prosecutors face when children are exposed to domestic violence, and what prosecutors can do to help battered women and their children. Given that children who witness domestic violence often experience emotional and behavioral problems, some States have enacted laws that make it a separate offense to commit domestic violence when children are present. In such jurisdictions, law enforcement investigators must document the presence of children when investigating domestic violence cases. To understand how prosecutors are responding to the changing attitudes toward the presence of children at domestic violence incidents, the survey asked them to explain how they would respond to three different scenarios that involved children in domestic violence situations. The survey found that prosecutors in States with laws either creating or enhancing penalties for domestic violence in the presence of children were significantly more likely to report battered mothers for failure to protect their children from abuse or from exposure to domestic violence. however, there was no significant difference in the likelihood of prosecution. Research suggests a number of steps prosecutors can take to help children who are exposed to domestic violence. These include vigorous efforts to enforce the terms of no-contact orders and probationary sentences; the establishment of protocols within prosecutors' offices to encourage information-sharing among prosecutors with responsibility for domestic violence and child abuse caseloads; identification of means for early intervention; training of law enforcement investigators to note the presence of children in domestic violence cases; and the prosecution of domestic violence offenders on concurrent charges of child endangerment, emotional abuse, or other available charges that reflect the danger to children who witness violence. A section of this article details the findings of the survey of prosecutors. 17 notes

Date Published: March 1, 2002