Breaking the Silence: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Domestic Violence Courts

This brief explores the efficacy of domestic violence courts and how to optimize them for fair and comprehensive rulings. This brief will acknowledge the flaws within the court system and provide solutions to fix those issues and ensure justice for all.

At YIP, nuanced policy briefs emerge from the collaboration of six diverse, nonpartisan students.

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This brief explores the efficacy of domestic violence courts and how to optimize them for fair and comprehensive rulings. This brief will acknowledge the flaws within the court system and provide solutions to fix those issues and ensure justice for all.

Executive Summary

This brief will highlight the flaws within domestic violence courts and propose research-based solutions for those issues. The purpose of this brief is to improve the experience of victims going through the court system and ensure that all judges have a comprehensive and thorough understanding on the case to make effective rulings and recommendations. 


A. Pointed Summary
  • From being an almost unattended cause to the present day existence of hundreds of Domestic Violence Courts  (DVC’s) throughout the United States, the US criminal justice system continues to effectively maintain, if not, increase attendance to Domestic Violence crimes.  
  • Financial and medical issues and limited accessibility to DVC’s during the pandemic led to a multitude of subsequent concern for victims. For example: denied access to child support, poverty, etc.
  • In order to overcome the continuing impact of COVID-19 on DVC’s, it remains imperative for there to be a “strong framework” supported by policy reforms such as the integrated domestic violence court, the one-judge model, and various revisions and restructurings.
B. Relevance

According to the Office of Justice Programs, Domestic Violence has long-term socioeconomic issues as well as health issues for not only victims but witnesses. In the same report, the office highlighted that 1.3 million cases of domestic violence were self-reported in 2022. 

The National Coalition against Domestic Violence found that on average, nearly 20 people experience domestic violence per minute in the United States. About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience domestic violence within their  lifetime. 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon. It is clear that domestic violence is a prevalent and seriously detrimental issue. Courts that handle such an issue must be effective to account for the severity of the crime.


Domestic violence was once viewed as a private matter that law enforcement was hesitant to interfere in. Even when action was taken, cases would not typically be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Few resources were available to victims, and there were minimal sentencing options that forced offenders to suffer the consequences of their actions. 

However, this changed during the 1970s, as the battered women’s and victim’s movements influenced the passage of criminal justice legislation. One specific example is The Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which was passed to aid the investigation and prosecution of sexual or domestic violence crimes. It established pro-arrest laws (such as prohibiting the crossing of state lines to harm a domestic partner or violate a protective order), created a domestic violence hotline, and funded resources intended to protect survivors or underserved populations. The law also required community-coordinated task forces to respond to forms of domestic violence and sexual abuse, bringing together a wide variety of viewpoints in various jurisdictions. These include victim advocates, police officers, survivors, and healthcare professionals. Administered with grants, these groups work to improve victim outcomes. From the year 2000 to the present, VAWA has been reauthorized numerous times to account for victims across all gender identities, sexual orientations, immigration status, and disabilities. 

Following this wave of activism during the 1990s, the prevalence of DVCs and other specialized court models increased, ranging from drug courts, mental health courts, and veteran courts. The “problem-solving court” movement shifted the purpose of these specialized courts from only being an efficient way to battle overflowing caseloads to a focus on substantive goals examining the root of specific problems. Domestic violence courts began to consider how they could make a positive impact on the lives of victims, especially in a society that had permitted this behavior for decades. These courts ensured that judges followed through on cases, held offenders accountable, and aided victims. 

Currently, there are 208 domestic violence courts across the United States, with over 150 similar projects worldwide. There is no comprehensive set of procedures or statutes governing them, but some overarching goals exist. 

First of all, victim safety is arguably the most critical mission of DVCs. Partnerships are often created with service agencies, as well as links between victims and advocates that help them navigate the often complex court process. For example, the percentage of victim-advocate relationships rose from 55% to 100% following the opening of the Brooklyn felony domestic violence court, displaying just how effective DVCs are. Victims are typically more satisfied with these proceedings than non-specialized courts, leading to more cooperation and faith put into the criminal justice system. 

Another important objective is the timely management of domestic violence caseloads. Studies have shown that there have been reductions in the average length of time from case filing to resolution since the inception of DVCs. This efficient process allows for more cases to be heard, giving proportional attention based on case severity. 

A knowledgeable judiciary is an additional guiding principle of DVCs. Court staff, judges, and attorneys who deal with victims and batterers hold particular expertise in treating unique challenges posited by these specific situations. According to one national study, 84% of domestic violence courts have one to two dedicated judges, which enables them to become familiar with the details of a case from start to finish. Project or resource coordinators can also enhance the quality of decision-making, improving the flow and accessibility of information. 

Offender accountability is one of the most significant factors in servicing justice and protecting victims. Increased accountability has been taken to bring more severe sentences (such as prison or jail time) and noncompliance measures administered after intensive probation monitoring. With a focus on reducing recidivism rates, DVCs discourage batterers from reoffending. A strong emphasis is placed on rehabilitation and deterrence mechanisms and increased consequences for noncompliance.

Finally, facilitating coordinated community responses made up of a network of courts, social service programs, and other related organizations is a significant goal of DVCs. By involving numerous stakeholders, more information is shared between groups, the prosecution can develop more substantial evidence, and trust in the court system increases. 

As a result of the various reforms above, there has reportedly been a 178% increase in criminal violence caseloads nationally from 1989 to 1999, displaying their success. Since more victims are willing to step forward, more batterers are held accountable for their actions, and stigmas about domestic violence are shattered. Although further research must be conducted to discover which mechanisms most effectively protect victims, domestic violence courts are undoubtedly having a positive impact on the criminal justice system.

Policy Problem

A. Stakeholders

Despite working well for years, domestic violence courts were significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with courts nationwide being shut down and denied resources like funding for judges and prosecutors. During the pandemic, domestic violence courts restricted cases they would hear to ones deemed “essential” or “emergencies.” Cases deemed “non-essential” were put on indefinite hold, and victims had no access to courts. Many courts, like the New York City Family Court, were still using paper filings and were unprepared for the switch to online. Reports show many had limited information on their website during COVID-19 lockdowns, which prevented victims from receiving any information on their cases or how to apply for “emergency” status. Additionally, determining what constitutes an emergency case became an arbitrary process, and many victims were pushed into poverty from a lack of child support or did not see their children for months due to their visitation cases being deemed non-emergencies. Three years after the pandemic, victims are still being negatively impacted. Research shows that 80% of New York City Family Court litigants have no legal representation, and similar results are being seen in domestic violence courts across the country.

B. Risks of Indifference

With the United States ending the COVID-19 national emergency, domestic violence courts must begin rebuilding. Thousands of cases have been placed on infinite hold since the beginning of the pandemic. Judges need to work efficiently through their dockets to give victims and families the justice they deserve. COVID-19 lockdowns forced numerous victims to remain trapped with their abusers as well, deepening the trauma they had already suffered from. Since, trauma impacts the way victims deal with situations and daily life, these courts must begin providing them with the tools needed to recover. The Center for Court Innovation recommends that domestic violence courts immediately begin exploring practices and methods to help victims deal with trauma from their abuser and additional distress brought on by pandemic-related challenges.

C. Nonpartisan Reasoning

There are many nonpartisan evidence-based necessities to optimize Domestic Violence courts for success. Judges must have a full and comprehensive understanding of the case to effectively rule on it. Programs that are recommended to partners, such as batterer programs or mediators, should be adapted for maximum efficiency. Courts must surely provide participants due process under current and relevant state and federal legislation. Courts must also be staffed appropriately and adequately with unbiased and properly-trained professionals to provide an unbiased “quick and speedy trial.” Finally, courts and their related institutions, such as daycares, parking areas, and other offices, must be secure to provide a safe environment for victims.

Policy Options

Establishing a strong framework for domestic violence courts is essential in dealing with intricate issues of domestic conflicts. The primary problem comes from the dispersal within several court systems that necessitate a paradigm shift towards unified strategies. New York’s decision to assume the role of pioneering integrated domestic violence (IDV) courts signals a positive development for other jurisdictions. These special courts aim to simplify the adjudication process and commence providing standards for results that ensure consistency, standardization, and efficiency concerning aims toward unification and responsiveness.

A valuable idea to focus on is transforming family court procedures with the use of the “one family, one judge” method relating to Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) courts. This innovative concept is centered on one judge who handles a specific family’s case from start to finish, making the judicial decision process more personal and consistent.

By assigning one judge to a family at the beginning stage of any legal proceeding, there is an inherent chance of becoming more acquainted with this particular case and its peculiarities related to the specific aspects associated with such a small group. This makes the judge a more informed character, capable of making decisions tailored to families and their situations on an individual basis.

Another option is to introduce a revisions process to address how courts are responding to changes in state and federal legislation around domestic violence. As attitudes have changed surrounding domestic violence, so has relevant legislation. Thus, it is imperative that court rulings reflect the latest law.

Another recommendation is to launch an initiative that ensures that courts are extremely safe for victims. This can improve comfort in the environment and make it conducive to a more rehabilitative experience. Programs that are recommended to victims must also be re-evaluated by professionals for effectiveness. 


In summary, the development of domestic violence courts has been crucial in changing how the criminal justice system handles domestic disputes. The historical background highlights the noteworthy advancements, especially those brought about by laws such as the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. But the COVID-19 outbreak revealed flaws in the system, causing DVCs to experience disruptions and victims to face barriers to obtaining justice. It is essential to examine the pandemic's aftermath on domestic violence courts going forward. Rebuilding and expeditious case settlement are critical, particularly for those who were judged non-essential during the lockdowns. Given the effects of trauma on victims, DVCs ought to give top priority to putting procedures and strategies in place that help survivors heal.

A paradigm change can occur by putting in place by the recommendation to implement the Integrated Domestic Violence courts model, which is modeled after New York's innovative method. The "one family, one judge" approach promotes consistent and individualised decision-making, which improves the judicial system's general effectiveness and responsiveness. This creative approach adheres to evidence-based requirements by placing a strong emphasis on victims' safety, due process, and a thorough understanding. Integrating IDV courts is a solid policy choice to maximize domestic violence court operations in the goal of creating a more cohesive and efficient system. Prioritizing victim protection, effective caseload management, an informed judiciary, offender responsibility, and coordinated community responses are essential to sustaining the positive influence of domestic violence courts on the criminal justice system.


The Institute for Youth in Policy wishes to acknowledge Michelle Liou, Joy Park, Nolan Ezzet and other contributors for developing and maintaining the Policy Department within the Institute.


  1. "About the Office on Violence Against Women." U.S. Department of Justice. Last     modified June 2016. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  2. “Domestic Violence: Overview.” Office of Justice Programs. Accessed January 27, 2024.,that%20can%20last%20into%20adulthood. 
  3. Integrated Domestic Abuse Court - Justice Innovation. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  4. “Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Courts | NYCOURTS.GOV,” n.d.
  5. Integrated Domestic Violence Courts: Key principles. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  6. Jennifer. “The ‘one Family, One Judge’ Court Model: Instituting Integrated Domestic Violence Courts in the United States.” New York State Bar Association, March 24, 2023.   
  7. Labriola, Melissa, Sarah Bradley, Chris S. O'Sullivan, Michael Rempel, and Samantha Moore. A National Portrait of Domestic Violence Courts. December   2009. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  8. Mascolo, John, Esq. "Federal Domestic Violence Law: Violence Against Women Act     (VAWA)." FindLaw. Last modified May 26, 2023. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  9. Moore, Samantha. Two Decades of Specialized Domestic Violence Courts. November     2009. Accessed January 14, 2024.
  10. “NCADV: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.” The Nation’s Leading Grassroots Voice on Domestic Violence. Accessed January 27, 2024. 
  11. Richard Johnson. “Changing Attitudes about Domestic Violence.” Changing Attitudes About Domestic Violence | Office of Justice Programs. Accessed January 24, 2024.

Aarya Chowdhry

Criminal Justice Team Lead

Aarya currently co-leads Criminal Justice Policy in the Policy department and is an Outreach Intern in the Education department at YIP. Fortunate to call Kanpur, India, her hometown, she is an avid reader, learner and poet.

Anagha Nagesh

Criminal Justice Team Lead

Anagha is a current student at John P. Stevens High School in New Jersey. She joined YIP in the Spring 2023 fellowship and now co-leads the Criminal Justice policy team. She hopes to pursue political science or policy in college. In her free time, she likes to sing, act, and travel.

Alayna Hassan

Alayna Hassan

Alayna is studying natural sciences with a specialization in English, in Sweden. She is very passionate about health, public policy and social justice (among many other topics). In the future, she aspires to merge these interests to help create change for good. In her free time, she love to read, binge-watch sitcoms and doing anything creative.

Taylor Luna

Policy Analyst

Emily Tsai

Policy Analyst

Emily is a passionate and inquisitive individual who finds joy in the simple act of reading. As a current junior, she has cultivated her fervor within the realm of gender rights, criminal justice, and public policy.

Gauri Vaidya

Gauri Vaidya

Gauri is passionate about developmental policy, photography, and political engagement and discourse. Her areas of interest include the Middle East, Post-Colonial South Asia and conflict studies.

Naomi McKenna

Fall 2023 Fellow

Naomi McKenna is a high school student at Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, who will graduate in 2024.

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