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Integrating Facility Dogs into Legal Contexts for Survivors of Sexual and Family Violence: Opportunities and Challenges
journal contributionposted on 2021-11-24, 00:56 authored by Tiffani HowellTiffani Howell, Suzanne HodgkinSuzanne Hodgkin, Corina ModdermanCorina Modderman, Pauleen BennettPauleen Bennett
Giving evidence in court can be stressful, especially for children. Since increased anxiety is associated with an increased likelihood of unreliable testimony among children, reducing anxiety in this context is important to improve the quality of evidence. Dogs have been used in legal settings, such as courtrooms, to provide comfort for vulnerable witnesses. Preliminary evidence supports their use, but further research is needed to better understand this phenomenon. The aim of this study was to characterize the employment of dogs in legal settings for survivors of sexual and/or family violence (SFV), as reported by adult professionals working in those contexts. This qualitative, exploratory study included interviews with 11 professionals (9 women, 2 men) working with dogs in legal contexts. Participants reported considerable benefits for survivors when dogs are integrated into these settings. Participants reported that survivors felt more comfortable opening up about their experiences, remaining calm enough to give reliable evidence. Several participants reported that this willingness to give evidence in court led perpetrators of SFV to plead guilty to the charges. In addition to reported benefits for survivors, participants also indicated that staff morale improved. Challenges identified included logistical (e.g., managing staff with dog allergies) and structural (e.g., lack of support from other members of the legal community) issues. Animal welfare was a priority for all participants, but some dogs experienced high workloads. Future research should empirically examine these benefits, to understand whether the use of dogs in legal settings should be encouraged.