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Safety of Women Essay

It is crucial that probation officers develop a familiarity with the needs and safety concerns of women who are abused, and become aware of the risks women face while on probation supervision. For example, an abuser may use the probation condition as another way to abuse her by threatening to falsely allege a probation violation to her probation officer, or by forcing her to commit an illegal act and then reporting it (Crager et al., 2003). When a probation officer learns that a woman probationer is abused, the officer should apply the same principles for working with women who are not probationers (NYS PDVIP, 2005). If a woman who is abused has not had contact with domestic violence programs, probation officers can play a key role in providing information and referrals to domestic violence services. A probation officer may be the first person that has ever said to her: “You don’t deserve to be abused. It’s not your fault, and there’s nothing you have done to cause the abuse.” Probation officers have a responsibility to reassure women that they are not alone with their experiences: “I’m concerned about you, and when you are ready, help is available.” When probation officers provide referrals, it is crucial to understand that her potential reluctance or unwillingness to take hotline/advocate contact information may be related to a concern for her own safety. Her abuser may be waiting for her in the parking lot, go through her purse or pockets, and use that domestic violence program contact number as a reason to continue and/or escalate his abuse (NYSCADV, 2004b).

It is also important for probation officers to take their cues from women who are abused as to what their abusers’ actions mean. For example, an abuser may have made statements to indicate that a woman’s risk is high (i.e. “The next flowers you’ll get will be when you are in the ground”). Probation officers can also assist women in identifying and understanding dangerous and potentially illegal stalking behaviors including unwanted phone calls, letters, gifts, flowers, email, instant messages, or faxes. A stalker may also follow her or show up at places she frequents (home, work, school, etc.), make verbal, written, or implied threats directed at her, her friends or family, or vandalize her property. More extreme acts of stalking may also include assaults or other acts of violence, including sexual assault, directed at her, an immediate family member, or someone she knows (NYSCADV, 2004b).

Probation officers support the safety of women by providing referrals to domestic violenceprograms to assist with completing a safety plan. If a woman chooses not to contact a domestic violence advocate, probation officers can help her review her risks and create a preliminary safety plan (See Appendix B for considerations for developing a preliminary safety plan), including asking about weapons available to the offender, as well as his access to the children (NYSCADV, 2004b). Regardless of the level of offense or conviction, probation officers should refrain from minimizing the abuser’s potential to inflict serious physical injury. All domestic violence cases should be considered as potential homicides, particularly during separation or after a woman who is abused terminates the relationship (NYS PDVIP, 2005). Probation officers are also becoming aware of the potential for collusion with abusers who are not under supervision. These abusers may attempt to become an ally of probation officers in order to maintain power and control over the woman who is abused.

To counter these attempts at coercion, probation is increasingly conducting Pre-Sentence Investigations (PSIs) in all domestic violence cases. If there are insufficient resources to do this in all cases, PSIs should be conducted on any case where the defendant may have a history of victimization by the alleged victim in the presenting case. The PSI should include specific questions about the history of victimization and power and control dynamics in the relationship (NYS PDVIP, 2005) (See Appendix C for a list of general guidelines for probation officers who supervise women who are abused). Additional strategies for supervising women who are abused include the following: 1. Know and follow the departmental confidentiality policy regarding use of information about the woman who is abused, including her contact information. Inform the woman who is abused of the policy at first contact, and again as necessary throughout the supervision process. It is important for her to understand what will happen with any and all information she may provide to her probation officer (e.g., Will it be written in her case file? Will a supervisor see it? Will it be submitted to the judge in a report? Will her abuser or his attorney have access to it?) 2. Create a safe environment for women who are abused to disclose their experiences of abuse if they choose. Consider displaying domestic violence posters in the probation department and have local domestic violence program brochures and pamphlets available as a visible way to show that the officer and the department take domestic violenceseriously.

3. Explain the terms of the Orders and Conditions of Probation, the role of a probation officer, and any additional relevant agency policies. Fully explain the consequences of violations of the Orders and Conditions of Probation, and other probationer obligations. 4. Assure the woman who is abused that she is not responsible for her abuser’s behavior. The choice to abuse rests only with the abuser. 5. Do not use her abuser as a collateral contact. This may unintentionally reinforce and validate his power and control over her and introduce unreliable information to her case. 6. It is essential to understand that the decisions women make may be based on critical survival strategies. Women who are abused are constantly evaluating their risks, and from day to day their needs and safety concerns may vary. 7. Ask the woman who is abused to identify how to contact her in a way that supports her safety. Do not initiate contact with the woman who is abused while her abuser is present. 8. Ensure that the woman who is abused has contact information for the local domestic violence program. Assist her in identifying her safety concerns. 9. Discuss safety issues for the probation officer and the woman who is abused that may impact home contacts, fieldwork, or collateral contacts (e.g., if the abuser lives with the woman who is abused, schedule a home contact with her when the abuser is not at home). 10. Address other needs of women who are abused including employment, childcare, housing issues, substance abuse treatment, etc. 11. Do not promise the woman who is abused any thing you may not be able to deliver. Do not assure her of her safety (NYSCADV, 2003; NYS PDVIP, 2004) (See Appendix D for a checklist for probation contact with victims of domestic violence).

Collaboration with Domestic Violence Advocates and Referrals to Domestic Violence Programs.

Probation officers are building strong collaborations with domestic violence advocates. As a result, they have a greater comprehension of the dangers that women face, and a broader understanding of choices women make which are grounded in critical survival strategies. The role of advocates, which are employed by traditional domestic violence programs (based in, or linked with, not-for-profit, non-governmental agencies), is defined by the needs
and desires of women who are abused. The overarching goals of advocates are to support and bolster women’s confidentiality and decisions, and provide them with information. The allegiance of advocates lies solely with women who are abused, which is distinct from victim-witness liaisons (also sometimes referred to as “advocates”) that may be employed by district attorney’s offices, law enforcement agencies, and other system-based programs. In fact, advocates may be called upon to represent the interests of women who are abused to other persons and/or agencies. Advocates and domestic violence programs are a major resource for probation officers and departments and vice versa, and this interdependent relationship should be encouraged, strengthened, and formalized as a necessary part of a coordinated community response to domestic violence. Advocate-probation collaborations can strengthen cases and significantly support safety of women in many ways. Advocates can assist with explaining the probation process, help women who are abused understand what probation officers and departments do, and review probation documents and paperwork with women who are abused. In addition, advocates can help prepare women who are abused for meetings with probation, and may be able to attend meetings to provide additional support (NYS PDVIP, 2004, NYS PDVIP, 2005)[3].

Probation officers can minimize the potentially dangerous repercussions of unintended consequences of supervision practices, by developing and maintaining collaborations with advocates regarding safety issues. Thus, interventions implemented by probation officers can focus on helping women who are abused explore and evaluate available options, make informed decisions, design preliminary safety plans that reflect women’s needs and goals, and facilitate voluntary involvement in domestic violence services (State of New York, 1998). At every opportunity, probation officers should make available hotline numbers, contact information, and descriptions of locally available domestic violence programs and services to women who are abused. However, seeking help from a domestic violence program, getting an order of protection, or deciding to leave an abuser only makes sense to a woman when, on balance, it reduces the overall risks that she and her children face. Victim safety should remain paramount when there may be competing interests or a perceived benefit of a program, policy, protocol, or procedure. Achieving this goal requires a supervision plan that incorporates the many obstacles and risks to achieving safety or to ending a relationship with an abusive partner that women who are abused encounter. Domestic violence programs focus on empowerment, autonomy, and self-determination, and mandating participation in any program or service contradicts this philosophy (Crager et al., 2003). Mandating women who are abused to domestic violence services also places advocates in the incongruent role of monitoring compliance with probation conditions (Denton, 2001).

Considerations for Dual Probation Supervision of Women Who are Abused and Their Abusers

When women who are abused and their abusers are both under supervision by probation, a heightened level of confidentiality and a stringent safety protocol must be maintained within the department. Regardless of who is or is not identified by the criminal justice system as the abuser, probation officers should continue to implement practices that support the safety of women who are abused. Probation officers are well trained to be wary of probationers and their many tactics at “getting-over.” This skill is especially key when supervising domestic violence offenders, as abusers not only excel at this endeavor, but use it as a strategy directly related to their abuse and to their mindset. Although many convicted criminals may believe themselves to be victims, men who are abusers tend to be particularly insistent about their perceived victimization. Historically, men who abused were protected by traditions of privacy and privilege surrounding marriage and the family. While social values and laws are changing pertaining to abuse in intimate relationships, many men who abuse express a sense of intrusion and injustice, and feel that they have had something taken away, or that their rights have been abridged.

Probation officers need to exercise care not to say or do anything that could be interpreted as agreeing with the abuser – including even the most casual of comments or nodding of the head. Invariably, abusers will use that perceived support to minimize and justify their behaviors or to corroborate their negative assumptions about women (NYS PDVIP, 2004). Similarly, probation officers need to keep the focus on accountability, not on abusers’ personal or moral deficits, diseases, low self-esteem, early childhood experiences,
anger management, diminished intellect, addiction, mental illness, other individuals, or external events as the means to “explaining” or “solving” domestic violence. Doing so gives abusers support for the excuses they offer to explain their abusive behavior (State of New York, 1998).

General Safety Strategies for Women Who Are Abused During Dual Probation Supervision.

General guidelines for probation officers who supervise women who are abused during dual probation situations include the following: 1. Recognize that women who are abused have differing safety needs and concerns than men who are being supervised. In some situations, there may be a need to request a modification of Orders and Conditions of Probation that may negatively impact her safety (e.g. curfew, electronic monitoring, travel permits, and residency reporting may impose additional danger for women who are abused). 2. Do not schedule office interviews with both the woman who is abused and her abuser on the same day. Develop a schedule of meeting times and dates in conjunction with the other supervising officer. 3. It is essential that different probation officers supervise the woman who is abused and her abuser.

This minimizes opportunities for breeches in confidentiality and reduces the potential for collusion with the abuser. 4. If case reviews are routinely conducted with other probation officers and supervisors, exercise extreme caution in discussing case details which may put a woman who is abused at risk. While challenging, limit the access of other officers and supervisors as much as feasible to the case file of the woman who is abused. Discussing the details of her case with other probation officers may result in information getting to her abuser, with potentially significant repercussions for her safety. 5. Do not make negative statements about the abuser during supervision of a woman who is abused (NYSCADV, 2003; NYS PDVIP, 2005). For example, comments such as “he’s such a lousy husband” or “he’s a real jerk” interject value judgments into the supervision process that can significantly detract from perceptions of probation officers and their ability to maintain a professional demeanor. Rather, the context of the abuser’s behaviors and actions should be focused on her safety.

Additional Safety Strategies for Women Who Are Abused During Supervision of Their Abusers.

General guidelines for the supervision of abusers include the following: 1. The safety of the woman who is abused is the chief concern. 2. The abuser is responsible for his behavior. There is no acceptable justification for his violence, no matter what he says or how much he blames her. Address every attempt of abusers to deny, minimize, justify, or blame abuse on anything other than their own personal choice. 3. Neutralize the abuser’s attempts to manipulate officers or control probation proceedings. Avoid any situation that could lead to unintentionally colluding with the abuser. 4. Whenever possible, probation officers should use sources of information, other than the woman who is abused, to enforce accountability of abusers who are also on probation. If a probation officer does include input from a woman who is abused, it is crucial for the probation officer to explain to her, realistically, what may happen with the information that she provides regarding her abuser’s case.

Thus, the probation officer should specifically inquire about information that the woman who is abused can provide about her abuser without putting her at increased risk. 5. The probation officer should clearly describe to the woman who is abused how violations of probation are handled and what sanctions may be imposed on her abuser. 6. Safekeeping of the contact information for the woman who is abused is always a priority. Her contact information should always be kept out of sight when the abuser is in the office. If possible, putting the contact information for the woman who is abused in a different colored file or using a piece of colored tape on the file can be an easy way to remind probation officers of the heightened need to keep the information confidential. 7. In addition, probation department policy should require that probation officers notify a woman who is abused at least one month before her abuser is discharged from supervision. This will provide an opportunity for her to identify any safety concerns and request appropriate referrals from her probation officer (NYSCADV, 2003; NYS PDVIP, 2005).

Considerations for Court Ordered Referrals That Are Dangerous

Increasingly, the criminal justice system and the courts are tapping into a wider range of program and referral options and sanctions as responses to domestic violence cases. While many commonly used interventions, referrals, and services are safe and appropriate for many individuals; probation officers need to recognize that several of these same practices are dangerous and inappropriate for women who are abused. In addition to the increased danger these practices may create, they may also reinforce the notion that a woman who is abused shares responsibility for her partner’s violent and/or controlling behavior. Such a message reinforces the mistaken belief of most abusers: women who are abused are to blame for the violence. Thus, it also encourages women who are abused to internalize responsibility for their partners’ violence and has the potential to increase the likelihood that the abuser will physically or emotionally harm his partner (NYSCADV, 2004b).

Safety Considerations for Batterer Program Referrals.

The Violence Against Women Office’s Toolkit to End Violence Against Women recommends that the justice system avoid ordering victims of domestic violence to participate in batterer programs (VAWO, 2001). There are many practical and philosophical problems associated with court-ordering a woman who is abused to participate in a batterer program. If she was acting in self-defense or to protect her children, or was using violence in retaliation for abuse, the court order is, in effect, punishment for being abused. Most women who are abused are not batterers, even when they have used violence proactively. While the content of a program for female offenders may be helpful to some women, the “batterer” label written into the court order is generally inaccurate (Crager et al., 2003). Participation in a batterer program places a woman who is abused in greater danger. For example, when a program notifies the alleged “victim” (in actuality, the real batterer) of the woman’s participation in the batterer program, he can learn where and when he can find her. Batterer program staffs have described instances in which women who are abused have been stalked by their abusers every time they attended their court-ordered batterer program. Mandatory participation in batterer programs by women who are abused also creates
opportunities for batterers to sabotage the women’s compliance with the court order by interfering with their attendance, or reporting false allegations of new acts of violence (Crager et al., 2003). Andy Klein, former chief probation officer for the Quincy, MA court and nationally known author on probation, criminal justice, and domestic violence, also commented on the use of batterer programs for women: | |If we really want to offer our services to female batterers, there are better ways to reach them than | | | |to rely on the coercive powers of a criminal justice system that too often gets it wrong in separating| | | |out batterers from victims. If the prosecutor or judge asks you to assist the court by offering | | | |batterer intervention programs for women…just say NO. Offer, instead, to help train officers, | | | |prosecutors, and judges on how to arrest, prosecute, and sanction wisely (Klein, 2001, p. 2). | | | |–Andy Klein |

Safety Considerations for Mediation and Couples Counseling Referrals.

Intervention strategies that require cooperative participation typically assume an equal relationship in which both parties are free to openly participate. Mediation, for example, is a process through which equal parties are engaged in negotiations to resolve a conflict. Because of the inherent imbalance of power between an abuser and a woman who is abused, mediation and couples counseling are inappropriate in domestic violence cases. A victim of domestic violence who, by definition, is being controlled by her partner is significantly compromised in her ability to negotiate freely and is not on an equal footing with her partner. Women who are abused may also be encouraged to alter their behavior so that they do not “provoke” their partners into abusing them, thus, holding the victims accountable for the abuse. Any focus on placating the abuser diverts resources or interventions away from safety and accountability. Also, many women report being threatened or assaulted after joint intake or counseling sessions for things they said or did during the session (Frank &Golden, 2002; National Institute of Corrections [NIC], 2001; NYS PDVIP, 2003a; State of New York,

Safety Considerations for Restorative Justice Practices.

Community and restorative justice practices, which can be effectively used in conjunction with property and juvenile crimes, may not always be “restorative” or appropriate for women who are abused. As an understanding of power and control and the dynamics of domestic violence are not reflected in many restorative justice practices, they are dangerous for domestic violence cases. Conferencing (also known as Family Group Conferencing) routinely requires women who are abused to have face-to-face visits with their abusers. Also, communities may change agreement plans if they see abusers are having problems with implementing them, thus creating the potential for abusers to manipulate consequences and avoid accountability for the crimes they committed (NIC, 2001; NYS PDVIP, 2003a). Circles (also known as Sentencing, Healing, Peacemaking, or Community Circles) primarily use negotiation, mediation, consensus building, and conflict resolution tactics that, because of power differences between the abuser and the woman who is abused, are dangerous and inappropriate. Also, responsibilities are often inappropriately assigned to women who are abused and their support groups, and outcomes are often focused on an increased community capacity to “resolve disputes” (NIC, 2001; NYS PDVIP, 2003a).

Safety Considerations for Routine Mental Health Assessments.

Domestic violence is not the result of a mental health issue, nor does a woman who is abused, typically, have a mental illness. The rate of mental illness among women who are abused is no higher than that of the general population, and mental illness on the part of the woman who is abused is generally not the cause of the violence. When a woman who is abused has no related mental health issues, an assessment implies that the woman’s status as a victim of domestic violence is in some way connected with a mental health problem. Thus, women who are abused should only be referred for mental health assessments for reasons that are not connected to the abuse. Few mental health providers have specific training in assessing for domestic
violence or in providing supportive services. Like an order to complete a batterer program, an order to complete a mental health assessment can be used against the woman who is abused in a number of ways; for example, it may contribute to losing custody of her children (Crager et al., 2003).

Strategies to Respond to Court Ordered Referrals That Are Dangerous.

Probation officers have numerous opportunities for “teachable moments” in which they can educate judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, other criminal justice professionals, and community stakeholders about the nature and dynamics of domestic violence, women’s use of violence, predominant aggressor identification, and the crucial need to revise criminal justice protocols that re-victimize women who are abused through unintended consequences. In some jurisdictions, probation departments are developing protocols, which prohibit probation officers from mandating or referring women to dangerous practices. When judges refer or mandate women to these practices, the probation departments respond to the judges with an explanation of how the practices are dangerous to women, why the department has restricted use of them, and provides them a copy of the departmental protocol. A strong collaboration with local domestic violence advocates is the cornerstone to a probation response that supports the safety of women who are abused while minimizing the impact of potentially dangerous practices. Advocates are a tremendous source of information and support for probation officers on general domestic violence issues and concerns facing women who are abused, and can provide feedback on proposed policies, referrals, and practices.


The regrettable influx of women who are abused into the criminal justice system calls for the expert and principled participation of probation officers to promote their safety. Fortunately, probation officers are well positioned to assume this additional responsibility of justice on behalf of women who are abused. At every opportunity, probation officers should make available hotline numbers, contact information, and descriptions of locally
available domestic violence programs and services to women who are abused. Victim safety should remain paramount even when there may be competing interests or a perceived benefit of a program, policy, protocol, or procedure. Achieving this goal requires an expansion of traditional notions of probation’s mandate of offender accountability and public safety. Domestic violence is a complex issue that demands probation officers implement supervision plans that contain strategies for the many obstacles and risks to achieving safety that women who are abused encounter. Tremendous change has been occurring within the criminal justice system regarding transformations in attitudes and beliefs about domestic violence. Increasingly, domestic violence is seen as a serious crime that warrants swift and strong law enforcement, court-based, and correctional responses aimed at holding abusers accountable for their actions. Probation officers are taking on prominent roles in bringing about the social change necessary to challenge domestic violence. Probation is in a unique position to support the safety of women who are abused and reduce the negative impacts of arrest and prosecution of women who are abused as part of a dual arrest for domestic violence, or other crimes. Anytime a probation officer encounters a woman who is abused or her abuser, regardless of who is the probationer, the officer has a crucial role in potentially preventing further domestic violence or even homicide.


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