Online forms have long been a key resource for those in need of a domestic violence order. Across the US, LawHelp Interactive-powered forms help thousands of victims a year create and file their domestic violence protective orders and petitions. Between June to September 2020, LawHelp Interactive (LHI) created approximately 18,500 free domestic violence pleadings, or 1,430 per week. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the delivery of legal services across the country. Access to in-person legal services has been limited as both individuals seeking assistance and their service providers have limited operations to the public at large and will continue to minimize direct contact as long as the virus remains a threat to individual and public health. Legal aid offices and courts have had to close or limit operations and have been forced to adjust to a new normal which includes remote services.
“When COVID-19 caused courthouses to shut down, my DCVLP colleagues and I did not know how we would continue to serve our clients who needed to file for protection orders,” says Ashley Carter, an Equal Justice Works fellow at DC Volunteer Lawyers Project. “LawHelp Interactive has been essential to our work, and we have been able to provide hundreds of domestic violence survivors with trauma-sensitive services through the online filing system. We hope that the Court will continue to provide LawHelp Interactive as an online filing option in the future.”
As a result, those who experience domestic partner violence are now at a greater risk while quarantining with their abuser. The pandemic has magnified the need for access to online resources and legal rights information, self-advocacy tools and remote court procedures. The Law360 article Remote Court Procedures Can Help Domestic Abuse Victims, authored by Ashley Carter and Richard Kelley, highlights evidence that suggests quarantines would result in an increased rate of domestic violence. Here is an excerpt of the beginning of the article:
“Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have predicted that quarantines would result in an increased rate of domestic violence. While it will take time to evaluate the extent of the impact, evidence already suggests that the experts were right.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that contact volume increased significantly in the first few weeks of the pandemic. A recent study published in the medical journal Radiology found a higher degree of incidence and severity of physical intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with the prior three years. In Washington, D.C., domestic violence crisis intervention agency DC SAFE received 3,148 calls in August, compare to an average of 1,895 inbound calls per month in 2019.
In addition to increased rates of domestic violence, the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted the services available to survivors. For example, some domestic violence shelters have had to reduce capacity to comply with social distancing guidelines or close entirely for periods of time to become properly equipped for COVID-19. As state agencies face enormous budget shortfalls, domestic violence service providers may soon find themselves facing reductions in their state-funded grants.” You can find the full article, here.
Well before the pandemic began, LHI supported many courts and nonprofit legal services providers to ensure people in crisis can access, complete and easily file essential court forms. LHI technology has been helping individuals navigate the domestic violence process in the District of Columbia Courts with the Forms Help Online project. As of March of this year, Forms Help Online contained 26 guided interviews (plus 26 in Spanish) with automated document assembly for those seeking the court’s domestic violence services. You can learn more about our work and partnership with the DC Courts on our blog.
There are other LHI-powered initiatives to assist domestic violence survivors. These existed prior to the pandemic and have been key during the closures to protect victims and their children. One project in Puerto Rico, through Ayuda Legal, where the existing online forms now can be mailed to the courts via LHI. We also have the New York Family Offense Petition program which is a program in partnership with the New York Courts. Tens of thousands of Family Offense Petitions are filed in New York State Courts each year by individuals seeking orders of protection. Domestic violence has serious ramifications and victims are in great need of advice and information to protect their safety.
If you want to learn more about LawHelp Interactive, please contact Claudia Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about LHI can be found at probono.net/our-work/individuals/lhi or visit LHI’s website at lawhelpinteractive.org.
“Remote Court Procedures Can Help Domestic Abuse Victims” was originally published on Law360 and is authored by Ashley Carter and Richard Kelley. You can find the original article, here.