The Empathetic Perspective That Should Be the Center of All Criminal Defense
What is the Victim-Centered Approach?
The victim centered approach is defined by the Office for Victims of Crime as a focus on the needs and concerns of victims of human trafficking to ensure the compassionate and sensitive delivery of services in a nonjudgmental manner. It seeks to “minimize traumatization associated with the criminal justice process by providing support of victim advocates and service providers, empowering survivors as engaged participants in the process, and providing survivors an opportunity to play a role in seeing their traffickers brought to justice.”
How is it Put into Practice?
The Office for Victims of Crime recognizes that the victim centered approach plays a vital role in “supporting victim’s rights, dignity, autonomy, and self-determination, regardless of whether they chose to report or cooperate with law enforcement.” This approach is correctly utilized when all professionals involved in a case of human trafficking advocate for the victim and prioritize their wishes, safety, comfort, and well-being. This approach is centered around a trauma-informed perspective and requires that all service providers “avoid activities that can ostracize a victim, those that mirror the behavior of a trafficker, however unintentionally, by limiting or not offering a victim choices in the recovery process.” Ultimately, every word and action taken by service providers needs to be carefully considered in order to ensure the victim is not retraumatized. For example, even factors as miniscule as the layout of an interview room or the body language of the victim’s interviewer must all be considered. Therefore, the victim-centered approach requires patience, empathy, compassion, understanding, and diligence from all service providers at all times when working with a victim. Doing so will help ensure that trust is established between the victim and service providers, that the victim’s needs are met, and that the providers are doing everything in their power to create safety and security in the lives of the victims they are working with.
The Importance of Service Provider and Law Enforcement Partnerships
It’s imperative that service providers form partnerships with law enforcement in order to effectively utilize the victim-centered approach. When victims choose to work with law enforcement to seek justice against their traffickers, employing a victim-centered approach to criminal cases is imperative to a successful criminal case. But why doesn’t this happen already? Service providers are often assisting so many victims that they lack the time and resources to adequately assist victims and their needs. In addition, law enforcement agencies are so busy dealing with other cases that they lack the time to deal with the victim in a manner that is trauma informed. The same issue plague prosecutors, whose caseloads are so heavy that the victim’s needs are not addressed in a sensitive manner that allows them to feel in control of their lives and their case. Although many law enforcement agencies require sex trafficking victim assistance training, very few attorneys undergo such training. However, Lara Mullin, Chief Deputy District Attorney of the Denver District Attorney’s office focuses on a victim-centered, not victim-built, approach to human trafficking cases. This centers around the victim driving what the case looks like and never requiring the victim to step in a courtroom if they don’t want to. Prioritizing the comfort and mental well-being of the victim is imperative in all human
trafficking cases, however, this priority should also extend to victims in other kinds of criminal cases. Before a case begins, the prosecution and defense teams should come together and address that both parties will follow procedures that align with the victim-centered approach to ensure that the victim will not be re-victimized in the process of seeking legal justice.
Although the battle for legal justice is important, the prosecution and defense teams cannot be so focused on winning the battle that they disregard the fact that the victim is a human being who can be gravely retraumatized if they are not afforded sensitivity and empathy during all parts of the case.
What are the Advantages of The Victim-Centered Approach?
The victim-centered approach can be extremely useful for defense attorneys when it comes to cases involving false allegations. By curating a case around empathy and compassion to understand that the legitimate trauma and abuse an alleged victim endured in the past is ultimately the cause for the present false allegations, you are helping both the alleged victim and your client. It is imperative to make these factors known in a manner that isn’t accusatory towards character or morality, but instead driven by a desire to help the alleged victim and get them the services they need to work through their trauma. Diligently, vigorously and aggressively seeking the truth of how this person was victimized in the past and in turn, why they are victimizing your client through false allegations, truly is a way that both sides in a legal battle can win. Often, attorneys are so focused on winning a case and advocating for their client that they fail to see or question how their past trauma has shaped their lives. This is because doing so results in the realization that an alleged victim may not be telling the truth for reasons completely out of their control. As a result, attorneys will communicate with their client in manner that is not conducive with the victim-centered approach. Although this may push their legal case forward, it will seriously hinder the emotional state of their client. This is a form of re-traumatization that allows for false allegations to continue and a chain of victimization to be created. Ultimately, the victim-centered approach is a criminal defense rooted in humanity. It recognizes that, just because a victim wasn’t victimized by your client, they still may have been victimized at some point in their life and their healing should be prioritized. It also recognizes that this prior victimization cannot fuel a cycle of victimization where innocent individuals are wrongfully convicted because of false allegations.
Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney. Don has achieved over 100 not guilty verdicts at trial and over 2,000 dismissals.