Protective orders, when paired with a good safety plan, work well
- Remove all guns from the home;
- Order and enforce “no contact;”
- Remove the abuser from the home;
- Provide emergency financial assistance; and
- Ensure offenders get needed services, such as anger management or mental health treatment.
Safety planning is still essential. Temporary shelter may still be needed. For some offenders, criminal charges and incarceration are the only option that will keep a victim safe. Each survivor in Montgomery County seeking protection should have access to a victim advocate who can help with a safety plan.
Victims deserve rapid, comprehensive legal protection that works
Some may think it’s a simple choice for domestic violence victims to seek help. 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 victims come to court and ask for legal protection, we owe it to them 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:
- The rate at which judges deny protective orders varies widely and raises questions about equal treatment under the law. Court Watch prepared a confidential report for the court documenting each judges’ denial rate two years ago; we are now preparing a public report since the problem still exists. 40 volunteers are documenting cases which were denied when the victim appeared to be credible and at great risk.
- A wide range of best practices need to be used by judges, bailiffs, interpreters and clerks to keep more victims coming back to court until they have obtained a final protective order. Judges can converse with a victim who wants to drop her case to ensure that she has not been coerced. Courthouse safety and respectful treatment by all levels of staff are essential.
- Judges need to take time to fully assess the victim’s safety and, when there are children, their safety as well. Judges owe it to victims to require use of the Safe Passage Center in dangerous cases. Many intimate partner abusers also abuse their children or endanger them to strike out at their ex-partner. At least ten children have been killed in Montgomery County during unsafe visitation exchanges or unsupervised visits with intimate partner abusers.
- Every judge in Maryland that hears domestic violence cases should be required to attend continuing education on domestic violence and sexual assault. Although judges’ initial training on domestic violence is improving, once judges are on the bench they never have to attend a course or workshop on this important topic ever again in their careers. Continuing education can raise the awareness of new tools, such as the highly accurate Danger Assessment tool and underscore the reasoning behind nationally recognized “best practices.”
- 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 — emergency protection for their children as well as themselves. Emergency financial assistance enables a clean break with the abuser.
- Judges need to instruct bailiffs to use staggered exits 100% of the time and monitor that they are being used correctly. When respondents or defendants are held in the courtroom for an extra ten minutes, victims can leave court safely without fear, harassment or assault.
The use of staggered exits rose from 12% to over 80% following Court Watch’s first report. They are now incorporated into all bailiff training state-wide.
Overtime, bailiffs have begun letting far too many respondents leave in 2-3 minutes,
which is not long enough to ensure victim safety. In 2015-2016, local District Court judges
and bailiffs used staggered exits correctly in only 56% of relevant cases.