Educating the Law Enforcement Community
Additional training about victims' rights is equally important for law enforcement officers and attorneys. Because police officers are most often the first to respond to crime scenes, they are the first to come in contact with victims and witnesses. As such, their treatment of the victim may influence whether or not that individual chooses to cooperate with law enforcement for the remainder of the legal process.
The literature on victims' issues and on domestic violence in particular attests to the problems that can occur when police officers or attorneys are not educated about or are insensitive to the needs of victims (Websdale 1998). One study found that many rural law enforcement officers were reluctant to intervene in domestic situations or other family affairs (Websdale 1998). For the victim/witness community, problems arise if law enforcement agencies adopt a territorial attitude toward advocates or volunteers and consequently withhold valuable information from them or fail to involve them in the court process.
Education and training are essential to addressing these types of issues. Significant education efforts have changed law enforcement officers' attitudes toward domestic violence, for instance, from thinking of it as a "family affair" to treating it as a crime (Grama 2000). Officers, attorneys, and judges should be required to attend mandatory victim-related trainings and/or to seek out resources on victims' rights, assistance, restitution, and compensation, and on techniques for interviewing victims and witnesses. With proper training, these officials also will be better prepared to help victims navigate through the appropriate channels of the criminal justice processin turn, saving valuable time for the victim advocate.
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