Domestic Violence hearings: Getting to Court Isn’t Easy
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This week I was reminded how much courage someone experiencing domestic violence must have in order to seek court assistance to stop the abuse. Let’s skip past all the initial hurdles, such as physical and emotional trauma, giving up hope of reconciliation, fear of losing their home, financial support, or children; or just the logistics of getting to the court house (and if you’ve ever had to rely on public transportation in Montgomery County or figure out the parking system, you know what I mean). Having the tenacity to file for a protective order is a major step, and showing up for the actual hearing takes even more guts.
Watching DV victims wait for protective order hearings, I had many questions: If English is not her first language, how did she figure out where to go? If she’s alone, did anyone tell her she could get an advocate to help her prepare? If her abuser doesn’t show up, how long was she nervously looking for him – and wondering if he’s looking for her?
What is a victim thinking about while she waits, especially if it’s on one of the weekdays she has to sit for an hour or two in the courtroom because traffic cases and peace orders are heard ahead of her case? How does she keep calm if other cases involve loud, upset or unruly people? And once her name is finally called, if the judge tells her the Sheriff hasn’t yet been able to serve the respondent with the required paperwork, how does it feel to find out she has to come back in a couple of weeks and wait all over again?
Judges often tell victims about the VINE system, a service through which petitioners can be notified when the respondent is served, so they don’t have to keep coming back to court in the meantime. Making sure victims know about VINE is a “best practice” Court Watch applauds. There is only so much anyone can do to make a DV victim’s day in court easier, but Court Watch keeps an eye out to make sure the system works as well as possible. (See The Washington Post piece on CW’s report of the many challenges of getting to court.)