Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reading :: Victim Advocacy in the Courtroom

Victim Advocacy in the Courtroom: Persuasive Practices in Domestic Violence and Child Protection Cases
By Mary Lay Schuster and Amy D. Propen

Over the last few years, the two authors have written some important articles on domestic violence and child protection cases in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. These articles are really quite strong, describing the cloud of different advocates, volunteers, and texts that surround the courtroom in these chaotic, emotionally charged cases. And in this book, the authors summarize their three-year study of Victim Impact Statements, including interviews with judges and advocates, analysis of models and sample VISes, and courtroom observations.

The book builds on and amplifies the work of the previously published articles. Here, the authors take us on a tour of these difficult cases, introducing us to the judges, advocates, victims, and defendants; the many genres that accompany each stage of the process; the competing interests; the tangled practices; and the standards of proof used to make decisions. We feel sympathy for the victims and their families, but - and here I think the authors are to be commended - we begin to feel some sympathy even for the defendants, who may have given in to poor impulse control and now face the possibility of losing their kids forever. We also become to understand the difficult, conflicted jobs of the judge and the court-appointed special advocates, who must determine the best course of action from what are sometimes a set of unappealing alternatives. After reading this book, I began to understand how difficult and complicated such work is, how genres and practices help to structure and guide it, and how families are affected by it. If you're interested in the court system or genre studies, take a look.

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