Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Court Advocacy Program

When perpetrators of domestic and dating violence are not held accountable, they are more likely to continue to batter.[1]  Conversely, when law enforcement officers are trained in the dynamics of domestic violence, offenders are more likely to be apprehended, and victims are more likely to feel supported and thereby participate in the criminal justice process.[2]  In fact, victims are most satisfied when the criminal justice system and nonprofit victim service organizations collaborate to listen to victims, explain their options, and honor their choices.[3] It is imperative for a community to establish an effective, coordinated effort between law enforcement, prosecutors, and domestic violence service providers. 


Hope House has long known that offering shelter is not enough to break the cycle of domestic violence. A comprehensive array of services is necessary to meet the needs of the victims we serve. One aspect of those services is court advocacy that coincides with a collaborative working relationship with area police departments and the judicial system. For far too long law enforcement, courts and service provider systems were fragmented when dealing with domestic violence.

A shift took place over 15 years ago and the system started addressing domestic violence together as a cohesive system rather than separate parts. In our community, domestic violence is viewed as a community problem, not a family problem or a problem for Hope House to solve. We realized that working together is imperative in keeping the victim safe and holding the offender accountable.


The police respond to a call, arrest the perpetrator and give information to the victim about Hope House services. Many police officers will assist the victim in calling the hotline [816.461.HOPE (4673)] from the scene, to make that first step in reaching out for assistance less frightening. Hope House employs court advocates to provide advocacy services in 11 courts in Eastern Jackson County, serving over 9,000 victims every year.  

Court Advocates educate victims about the dynamics of battering relationships, discuss the services available at Hope House, and explain the procedures for obtaining ex parte Orders of Protection, as well as work with the Domestic Violence Investigator to target persistent offenders.  Hope House Court Advocates also provide domestic violence trainings and awareness materials for law enforcement, court personnel, and members of the judiciary.


What we have learned in working with clients through the court system is they are often unaware of their options. They are not familiar with how the criminal justice system works, their rights, or may not even be fully aware of the danger they were living in. The court advocacy program and its collaborative partnership assist victims through the process and give a face to the system. The working relationships with the police and prosecutors save lives. Victims have gotten out of relationships and are living free of abuse thanks to the help they received.


Let me end with a story that will put it all into perspective. The police were called to a home in reference to a domestic violence assault. The man was arrested and taken out of the home. A couple of days later the domestic violence detective and court advocate went to the home to check on the victim of the assault. When the woman opened her door, she was surprised to see the detective and an advocate standing there.

Once the detective explained they were there to check in on her because no one had been able to get a hold of her, she began to cry. The victim said “I didn’t realize anyone cared. I thought I was in this alone.” You see, once the man bonded out of jail, he come home and shot up the living room in retaliation for the police being called. The victim said she did not call the police after that incident because she feared for her life. The advocate was able to assist the victim with obtaining an emergency ex-parte and the detective worked on getting state charges filed against the abuser. This woman did not go through this alone and she did get out of her 15 year abusive relationship.  

1 Reported in the Campaign for Funding to End Domestic and Sexual Violence FY 2009 Appropriations Briefing Book (2008).  Cassandra Archer et al., Institute for Law and Justice, National Evaluation of the Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies Program 14 (Nov. 2002).
2 Ibid.
3 National Institute of Justice (Jan. 2006). Victim Satisfaction with the Criminal Justice System. NIJ Journal No 253

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