Role of Prosecutors

Last updated February 2019

Women around the world encounter a myriad of obstacles when they attempt to pursue prosecution of domestic assaults. In some countries, prosecutorial failure to pursue domestic violence offenses many be grounded in the language of the law. For example, under Article 161(1) of the Bulgarian Criminal Code, victims of domestic violence who suffer a trivial- or middle-level injury inflicted by a spouse, sibling, or other relative is not entitled to state prosecution. Instead, victims must prosecute themselves; they must locate and call their own witnesses and present their own evidence in court.[1]

In other countries, prosecutors are often reluctant to enforce laws in domestic violence cases, despite strongly-worded domestic violence legislation. Moreover, prosecutors may believe the same myths and stereotypes that absolve the perpetrator of personal responsibility for his actions. One of the more insidious opinions among prosecutors is that domestic violence is a private, family matter and that victims have no right to seek criminal sanctions against their batterers. “Even in jurisdictions where private arrest or citizen’s arrest is permissible, prosecutors should maintain the authority to proceed with cases that are provable and dismiss cases that are not supported by admissible evidence. Prosecutors must establish early contact with the victim to ensure the victim’s safety and obtain more information on potential charges.”[2]

In Albania, for example, it has been reported that prosecutors fail to prioritize criminal domestic violence cases if there is a parallel civil case going forward.[3] In Croatia, a recent report revealed that prosecutors are reluctant to initiate a criminal prosecution for domestic violence, which was further aggravated by the likelihood that prosecutors will drop cases if the victim recants or invokes her right not to testify against her spouse.[4]

Globally, there have been many efforts aimed at improving prosecutors' response to domestic violence. One such initiative is the promotion of policies that allow prosecutors to proceed with charges against defendants without the consent or even involvement of the victim. Within any strategy, however, the three goals of prosecution should be: (1) to promote victim safety, (2) to deter the defendant from further violent acts by holding him accountable for his actions, and (3) to communicate to the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated. When discussing the balance between protecting a victim and deterring further violence, one U.S. attorneys association wrote:

While the prosecutor’s goals are to ensure the safety of the victim and community and to hold the offender accountable, the victim may want to continue his or her relationship with their abuser. This right of the victim to continue the relationship should not be confused with the obligation of the prosecutor to prosecute provable cases of abuse. The prosecutor should zealously prosecute the offender while remaining sensitive to and respectful of the victim’s personal resolution of the case. [5]

Training for prosecutors on these issues is an important part of an effective intervention strategy.

[1] The Advocates for Human Rights, Assessment of Domestic Violence: Laws, Politics, & Practices in Central & Eastern Europe & the Former Soviet Union 52 (2016).

[2] Women Prosecutors Section, National District Attorneys Association, The National Domestic Violence Prosecution Best Practices Guide 16 (2017) (hereinafter NDVP Best Practices Guide).

[3] Advocates, Assessment of Domestic Violence, supra note 1, at 19 (2016).

[4] The Advocates for Human Rights & Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb, Implementation of Croatia’s Domestic Violence Legislation: Follow-Up Report 30 (2016).

[5] WPS, NDVP Best Practices Guide, supra note 2, at 8.



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