Legal Momentum attended the National Leadership Summit on State Court Responses to Domestic Violence in New Orleans last week. The meeting was convened by the National Center on State Courts to explore how states are using particular Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funds. The projects presented at the meeting exemplify the extraordinary benefits generated by Legal Momentum's work to develop, pass and reauthorize VAWA.
Under VAWA, states receive a certain amount of money through the "Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors" (STOP) grant program. STOP grants promote a multidisciplinary approach to improving the justice system’s response to violence against women while strengthening victim services. States receive money on a population basis, but 5% of the STOP funds they receive are allocated for the courts.
The Summit focused on STOP-funded programs for courts in each state. For example, Washington used its court STOP funds for a state bench guide on sexual violence, dedicated domestic violence specialists for specific courts, and a project to coordinate guidelines regarding child maltreatment in domestic violence cases across the state. North Carolina’s court STOP funds support a Sexual Assault Victim Advocate for teenage victims, the creation of a domestic violence best practices manual for district courts, and many other projects. The National Center on State Courts created an interactive map that details the STOP-funded projects for the courts in every state.
Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program (NJEP) Director Lynn Hecht Schafran attended the meeting and commented on the remarkable range of projects state teams presented at the Summit. Ms. Schafran noted that the meeting allowed for a great deal of idea-sharing and future planning based on other states’ successes. For example, a representative of the Minnesota team explained that, thanks to a suggestion from the Iowa team, they decided to use part of their court STOP funds for a part-time staffer to act as the Point of Contact on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault within the Administrative Office of the Courts, to improve policies, practices and training.
Ms. Schafran and NJEP Project Attorney Claudia Bayliff attended the Summit to provide state teams with educational tools regarding the intersection of domestic violence and sexual assault, an emerging area of research with significant implications for the courts. NJEP has created a web course/resource, Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: Adjudicating this Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases. Registration is free and open to all. NJEP recently developed new, in-person materials for courts, probation, and the community on this topic, as well as topic modules on a variety of issues related to sexual assault, such as elder victims of sexual abuse and jury selection and decision making in adult victim sexual assault cases.
Legal Momentum led the effort to pass the federal Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and its subsequent reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005. The projects presented at the Summit demonstrate the importance of VAWA funds for improving states’ response to violence against women across the country. VAWA is up for its third reauthorization in 2011. As a leader of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, Legal Momentum is deeply involved in improving this legislation to reinforce best practices and reach underserved populations. NJEP is also working with the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) on a national campaign to reduce sexual violence in the United States.