Sometimes we know things at a fundamental level. But reminders and instruction, especially group instruction, can do a world of good. 

Case in point, victims can be retraumatized in the retelling of their stories. How someone poses a question can cause victims to re-experience the trauma. The retelling can cause them to shut down and be traumatized by the very medical professionals, social workers, and police trying to help them. 

This is why there are protocols and best practices for interviewing and examining rape victims. 

Quick cut to the chase: Forms can inflict further trauma.

Because of this and because forms can be a significant access-to-justice barrier, Theory and Principle presented a conference dedicated solely to the design of forms.

At Formtastic!, presenters covered the basics of creating forms that are easier to comprehend and complete. In between presenters, attendees could mingle face-to-face (via Remo) at topical tables.

I had takeaways from each presentation, though the one featuring a deep dive into domestic violence forms continues to resonate the most. 

Frances Ho and Alison Corn shared their experiences researching and redesigning forms used in California’s domestic violence cases.

Ho, a veteran domestic violence attorney and designer with the Judicial Council of California, worked with Corn, a designer and new law graduate, to improve domestic violence restraining order forms. 

Corn shared an experience working in a DV self-help clinic where a woman came in to request a restraining order. She became so uncomfortable with the act of writing her story that she walked out. That struck a chord with Corn. The woman was so uncomfortable writing that she left, possibly to her abuser.

There’s probably no perfect way to work with victims of violence. There will be many unexpected triggers in the process of retelling such a personal story with pain, social stigmas, and feelings of shame attached. But Ho and Corn are continuing to work through how to assure forms aren’t creating barriers for victims seeking help.

There are 80,000 domestic violence restraining orders filed each year, just in California. And these forms are required to receive a restraining order. And… 70%-80% of the form fillers are doing this on their own, representing themselves.

Ho points out that even though the current forms are in “plain language,” they still inexplicably include statutory language in question 1. She also notes some organizational problems, including the form’s order and requirement that experiences be documented in reverse chronological order. 

Frances Ho and Alison Corn at Formtastic!

Think about that. Does the last thing a DV victim experience tell the story of a cycle of abuse? Is it likely the worst thing or leading up to something worse? Or is it the last straw? 

For the new form, Corn and Ho showed how a form could give victims more autonomy in telling a story, involved the opportunity for “helpers” to write the story as told to them. For those without helpers, the form now includes checkboxes, which they learned from users took away some of the shame they felt in writing the terms. 

They also learned how translations helped them improve plain language in English and other languages. 

On the group instruction breadcrumb I left earlier. Learning by video or webinar is certainly an option, pretty much the only option during much of the last year. What I have missed most from in-person conferences is learning from others. Learning from their questions, from their reactions, from the discussion afterward. 

The mingling is where the learning deepens, and sharing begins. 

I’d like to see more of a fleshed-out event so attendees can more easily learn more about and follow up with the speakers. 

There was a topic table for those interested in sharing ideas. I’m certain there was sharing by the attendees at that table and others. Ideally, there’d be a way to follow up and check out what others are working on.

Cyd Harrell and Nicole Bradick at Formtastic!

Overall, this was another strong event from Theory and Principle, with Nicole Bradick and Cyd Harrell at the helm. I look forward to the next one that bridges the civic and justice tech communities working for the common good.

While there isn’t an event summary or wrap landing page, those interested can view the presentations on YouTube: