Retraumatized in Court

In addition to the indignities associated with the violence itself, intimate partner violence survivors very often risk being retraumatized when trying to access the justice system. While the “me too” movement has shed light on how survivors of sexual assault and harassment often experience victim-blaming and other types of retraumatization when they try to tell their stories, few legal scholars have written about the retraumatization that occurs when survivors of intimate partner violence attempt to seek help through the courts. This retraumatization risk presents a barrier to effective justice: it has a chilling effect on the criminal prosecutions of domestic violence crimes; and it deters civil domestic relations and dependency actions, including child custody trials.
This Article details how courts are implicated in retraumatization and is the first to propose cross-cultural communication to improve the quality of justice for survivors of intimate partner violence. Adequate justice requires combatting an institutional culture that all too frequently trivializes the impacts of intimate partner violence.
While adapting the legal process to address this problem is a long-term task, the focus of this Article is to lay out more immediate strategies for advocates of survivors of intimate partner violence to improve the experience of their clients. Key to this urgent endeavor are: (1) employing “habits” of cross-cultural communication to better prepare our clients for how retraumatizing the legal system can be and (2) expanding the services provided by legal services organizations, including law school clinics, to include supportive services such as case-management and counseling.