March 10, 2017 SAN ANTONIO, Texas — This year’s annual Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Cross-Training Conference will feature an entirely new program — training in how to effectively provide expert testimony in civil and criminal cases involving sexual assault and domestic violence.
Margaret Bassett, director of the Expert Witness Programs at UT-Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA), will provide a full-day session that will train about 20 conference participants to provide expert testimony on the impact on survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse.
“Margaret is one of the country’s foremost experts on how to provide this kind of testimony,” said Maricarmen Garza, a LASSA attorney and Victims’ Rights Group Coordinator for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA). “Her involvement will add a whole new dimension to the conference. We’re very lucky to have her.”
Ms. Garza, who organizes the annual conference sponsored by the Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division and Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said civil and criminal attorneys often have difficulty finding expert witnesses in the rural and suburban areas outside of Texas’ major metropolises. Her invitation to Ms. Bassett was aimed at addressing the unmet demand.
Ms. Bassett said that because of the impact of sexual assault, survivors may not respond the way people think they should. “They may delay reporting, they may not remember things in order,” and the misunderstanding can impact the outcome of both civil and criminal cases. “Expert witnesses,” she said, “can help the courts understand.”
At the end of Ms. Bassett’s all-day session, the 20 participants will be cross-examined so they can get a sense of the pressure they will be under. A professional counselor who has taught as an adjunct at UT-Austin for ten years, Ms. Bassett has worked with the criminal justice system and with the Travis County Family Violence Task Force. As director of the IDVSA Expert Witness Program, she frequently plans and coordinates training of people who will supply expert testimony in cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault.
The annual Survivors of Abuse Cross-Training Conference, scheduled this year for June 14-16 at the Omni Hotel in San Antonio, focuses on best practices for people who work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. It will be attended by about 200 people from rape crisis centers, women’s shelters, and legal aid organizations throughout Texas.
“This conference gives us vital opportunities to share our experiences in working with survivors — to learn from each other,” Ms. Garza said. “It provides professional training that is essential to helping us serve our clients and patients — some of them survivors of horrific crimes — in the best, most effective and caring way that we can.”