Subpoenas landed on the desks of several domestic violence victims’ advocates in Portland, Or., this summer, ordering them to show up in court with files containing victims’ statements against alleged attackers in two pending cases, reports The Oregonian. The subpoenas sent shock waves through the nationally recognized local domestic violence program, prompting a special team of police, prosecutors, parole officers, and advocates who work together to intervene in high-risk cases to stop accepting new ones. The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team came to a screeching halt.
“We didn’t know what to tell victims. We were unable to say ‘Trust us, your information would remain confidential.’ So we stopped,” said Chiquita Rollins, Multnomah County’s domestic violence coordinator. Advocates argued that divulging confidential information about victims or subpoenaing records would have a “substantial chilling effect” on victims. Rollins cautioned that offenders could use information gleaned from an advocate’s file to intimidate victims and keep them from testifying. Defense lawyers countered they had the right to review victims’ statements before trial. In an unusual circumstance, the prosecutors sided with the defense. The debate has arisen elsewhere where such collaboration between police and community-based advocates has been encouraged to better tackle domestic violence or other serious crimes.