What does a PI need to do to prepare for a consultation with a domestic violence expert?
FIRST: Learn the facts of the case, e.g., is this a criminal defense case where the allegation is that the children were in the room as dad beat up mom and she’s now charged with failure to protect.
SECOND: Know what the person who has hired you wants you to learn, e.g., in this failure to protect case, was the mother shielding the children or using the children as HER shield and why?
THIRD: Ask your attorney what the foundations are for the expert’s testimony, e.g., does the expert need to explain why it is that this mother stayed so long with her abuser …BECAUSE if a jury doesn’t understand the victim’s reasoning, the jury is likely to believe that the abuse couldn’t have been that bad or she would have left, and THEN the jury may just not believe her AT ALL.
FOURTH: Read up on “domestic violence.” I googled “What a private investigator should know about domestic violence” and found useful insights and tips. Remember that domestic violence is a pattern of abuse where an intimate or past intimate partner uses coercive control to gain power over his partner; the way the abuser exercises control is through verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, economic, and litigation abuse. Abusers stalk, belittle, manipulate, and use the children, for example, to “keep their partners in line.”
FIFTH: Document everything with videos, photos – especially of any injuries-, quote people’s words rather than paraphrase, if you can. Speak with family and friends, asap. Track the abuser’s comings and goings and history, especially of former intimate relationships; abusers usually don’t have only one victim to their credit.
What mistakes does a PI need to avoid in their investigation specific to cases involving domestic violence and where they will be talking to witnesses and perhaps the reporting victim?
1. Communicating victim-blaming to the victim: don’t ask why didn’t you leave? Maybe say, “I’ve read about why people stay with a partner who does not treat them well: love, children, finances, embarrassment, religion, culture, fear, … there are many reasons. Can you talk me through how you have felt about staying and leaving? I’m sure you have a lot of concerns”
MORALE OF THAT STORY IS: SHE’LL CLAM UP IF YOU PUSH HER INTO A CORNER DEFENDING HER ABUSER.
2. Ignoring discovery rules: ask your employer, an attorney usually, if he or she wants ANYTHING in writing, how much, and “how,” e.g., via email, OR just scribbled notes and oral info only.
I GUARANTEE YOUR ATTORNEY DOES NOT WANT YOUR VERSION OF WAR AND PEACE BECAUSE IT WILL BE DISCOVERABLE.
3. Failure to get information on all types of abuse: I had a client in a termination of paternity case who had received a letter from the child’s father (who was in prison for manslaughter). The letter included the wish that she follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her FATHER had KILLED HER MOTHER.
MORALE OF THAT STORY IS: VERBAL ABUSE, HEARTS AND FLOWERS, INTERMITTENT REINFORCEMENT ARE PART OF A COURSE OF CONDUCT THAT CAN HEP PROVE THE ABUSER’S INTENT.
4. Leaving the investigation till the last minute
5. Believing there are two sides to every story: that is what the batterer expects you to believe. Don’t be his accomplice. If you must engage in that presumption, I will tell you the two sides I have seen: one is reality and the other is fiction.
What would be the top three myths of domestic violence?
1. It’s safer for a battered woman to leave than to stay.
FACT: Of battered women who are killed 1/2 to 3/4s of them had left.
2. Women batter men as much as men batter women.
FACT: 85% to 95% of victims are battered women or men in single-sex relationships.
3. Substance abuse or mental illness cause domestic violence.
FACT: Substance abusers who complete a 90-day AA program come out sober batterers. And batterers have no higher rate of mental illness than non-batterers.
What do you enjoy most about working with domestic violence and victims…
It’s a chance to move the needle just a little ways toward fostering healthier relationships and, most importantly, a next generation of children who don’t get hung up on whether men and women are equal – they just ACCEPT THAT FACT AND ACT ACCORDINGLY.
Vicki also shared her related article "A Guide to Domestic Violence
Expert Testimony in Colorado", published in The Trial Lawyer official publication of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association in November 2016 - < download here >