Pushing for more & better protective orders
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Court Watch Montgomery has a new report out – and the news
Numerous “best practices” were on display in domestic violence criminal court yesterday.
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Protective orders, when paired with good safety planning, work well
In the great majority of cases, protective orders effectively reduce the frequency and severity of intimate partner abuse. Court orders can provide needed emergency resources for victims. Protective orders can also ensure offenders get needed services, such as anger management or substance abuse counseling that can prevent re-abuse.
Safety planning is still essential. Temporary shelter may still be needed. For some offenders, criminal charges and incarceration are the only language that works. Each survivor in Montgomery County who wants help should have access to a victim advocate who can help with a safety plan.
Victims deserve rapid, comprehensive legal protection that works
It’s easy to judge domestic violence victims; of course they should seek help, right? But domestic violence victims greatly increase their risk of injury when they take steps toward independence. Abusers who are losing control often lash out. So when a victim comes to court and asks for legal protection we owe it to him or her to offer rapid, comprehensive, legal protection that works.
Almost a third of domestic violence victims who ask for help at Montgomery County Maryland courts don’t return to court to obtain full protection for one year. That’s dangerous.
Why don’t victims come back to court? Victims may not return to court to secure a full year protective order because:
- Clerks, bailiffs, interpreters or judges were rude or dismissive;
- Parking and day care needed to come to court are too expensive;
- They felt unsafe before, during or after they left the courthouse;
- Their employers did not allow them to miss work or victims felt their jobs were in danger;
- Their abuser convinced them they would change their behavior; or
- The temporary order worked, and they feel safer.
Court Watch’s agenda for change
What happens in domestic violence courtrooms can save lives. Clerks, bailiffs, interpreters and judges have many chances to dramatically improve safety and promote self sufficiency. Court Watch urges all courts dealing with domestic violence cases to:
- Use staggered exits 100% of the time to make sure that victims can leave the courthouse safely without fear, harassment or assault. Respondents and defendants should be asked to remain in the courtroom for at least ten full minutes after a victim leaves the courtroom. In the most recent year Court Watch studied, Montgomery County District Court judges and bailiffs used staggered exits correctly in only 56% of relevant protective order cases.Staggered exits were used even less often in domestic violence criminal cases. Staggered exits should be part of all bailiff training. Maryland courts should outline staggered exits as a policy in the Maryland Judge’s Domestic Violence Resource Manual.
- Judges should fully explain the content of all orders they grant. Victims need to know when to call 911. Respondents deserve the chance to fully comply with their protective orders.
- All judicial personnel should be trained in the importance of respectful behavior toward all parties and be held accountable when they are rude or inappropriate;
- District Court judges need to fully consider all requests for emergency custody and temporary emergency funds (Emergency Family Maintenance) instead of telling petitioners those issues should be dealt with in Circuit Court. Victims need — and deserve under Maryland law — protection for their children as well as themselves. The law provides for emergency financial assistance to enable a clean break with the abuser.