A safety plan is a set of individualized strategies that victims identify to help reduce the risks they and their children face. These plans include strategies to reduce the risk of physical violence and other harm caused by an abusive partner, as well as strategies to maintain basic human needs such as income, housing, health care, food, child care, and education for the children. The particulars of each plan vary depending on whether a victim has separated from her/his abusive partner, plans to leave, or decides to stay, as well as what resources are available to her/him based on her/his individual life circumstances (Jill Davies, 2009).
In a 2010 study by the Center for Court Innovation on domestic violence courts across the nation, qualitative data revealed that stakeholders consider the physical safety of victims who are attending court to be a major concern. Survey results showed that courts do not consistently provide safety measures: 60% do not provide separate seating areas in the court; 50% do not provide escorts in the courthouse; 40% lack separate waiting areas in the courthouse; and 76% do not provide childcare (Center for Court Innovation, 2010).
Individuals may feel a false sense of security when going to court, as they are in a public setting, are often accompanied by attorneys or family members, and are surrounded by court personnel including police. However, even if a survivor is accompanied to the courthouse, her abuser may follow her beforehand or afterwards. Even if the abuser does not pose a physical threat, he may engage in abusive tactics during proceedings. Given these realities, survivors may want to identify specific steps that they or others can take to promote their safety when they are going to court for a matter involving their abuser, or where their abuser may be present in the courthouse. The following resources include information on how to stay safer when going to court on a domestic violence or related matter.
DC SAFE (Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment) helps ensure safety and self-determination for survivors of domestic violence in the Washington, DC area through emergency services, court advocacy and system reform. SAFE’s Court Advocacy Program provides court-based advocacy services to between 20 and 30 victims every business day – over 4,000 clients each year. The Court Advocacy Program is located in the Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC) at DC Superior Court and the DVIC Southeast Satellite (DVICSE) at United Medical Center. Advocates work with victims throughout their court case to ensure that the legal remedies they seek enhance their overall safety, and to provide resources, information and referrals as the survivor’s situation changes over time. Contact your local domestic violence program to find out if a similar program exists in your area.