Victim safety at court can’t be taken for granted. Whether the courthouse security team is bailiffs or deputy sheriffs, their number one goal and obligation is to keep judges safe. Many courthouses have never looked at safety procedures from a victim’s point of view. But communities can ask their Administrative Judges to take another look.
When Court Watch began observing domestic violence cases in court in 2011, the first thing we noticed was abusers harassing victims as they sat on benches in the halls, waiting for the courtroom to open. Victims were harassed again while they waited in the clerk’s offices for their papers.
Harassment and violence escalated as victims left the courthouse. With no bailiffs or police officers posted outside, no escorts to their cars or bus stops, more than a third of victims were harassed or threatened, and some were assaulted.
Now 100% of victims have a safe place guarded by a bailiff where they can wait before and after their hearing. Montgomery County district courts have a policy of holding respondents for 15 minutes in the courtroom after the victim leaves, so that victims no longer have to fear or experience the worst.
But here’s the trouble: the “staggered exits” policy isn’t being implemented. Only about half of victims are given a full ten minutes to leave court safely; less than 20% are given fifteen minutes.