Maddox & Gerock

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Domestic Violence: My Experience and the Tools for Safety

My experience working with victims of domestic violence started during my time in law school. I volunteered to babysit for a women's shelter so that the women could have a night out. My goal for the evening was to incite creativity in the children and bring them into a fairytale world with me so that they too could have an evening away from the overcrowded and highly emotional charged environment in which they lived.

Motivated by my experience volunteering in the shelter, I applied for and was accepted as in a fellowship program which placed me working in a domestic violence legal clinic in Pennsylvania. Still a law school student, I had little experience upon which to draw, but I learned a few profound things about working with victims of domestic violence. I learned that being a lawyer is not only knowing the law and how to apply it, it is being a counselor to your clients. It is about gaining trust from someone who doesn't trust anyone. It is about empowering your client to understand what she/he can do to take control of the situation, not you. It is about being a vessel to be used for good. I also came to understand the importance of holistic advocacy, providing a client not only with legal representation, but also resources for shelters, counseling, etc.

My experience working with victims of domestic violence started during my time in law school. I volunteered to babysit for a women's shelter so that the women could have a night out. My goal for the evening was to incite creativity in the children and bring them into a fairytale world with me so that they too could have an evening away from the overcrowded and highly emotional charged environment in which they lived.

Motivated by my experience volunteering in the shelter, I applied for and was accepted as in a fellowship program which placed me working in a domestic violence legal clinic in Pennsylvania. Still a law school student, I had little experience upon which to draw, but I learned a few profound things about working with victims of domestic violence. I learned that being a lawyer is not only knowing the law and how to apply it, it is being a counselor to your clients. It is about gaining trust from someone who doesn't trust anyone. It is about empowering your client to understand what she/he can do to take control of the situation, not you. It is about being a vessel to be used for good. I also came to understand the importance of holistic advocacy, providing a client not only with legal representation, but also resources for shelters, counseling, etc.

That summer I worked on two cases that were especially difficult, one in which the abuser killed himself a week after the court hearing and another case where my client threatened suicide. I learned that domestic violence is a vicious cycle. In domestic violence relationships there are some women who love their abusers so much that they will literally give up their life because of them and there are men who are so obsessed with being in control that it kills them when that control, through a protective order, is taken away.

My background was a natural fit for working in a family law firm. In Virginia, there are many both legal and non-legal resources to assist victims of domestic violence. The legal system has a lot of protection to offer victims of domestic violence. If you are a victim, it is imperative that you file for protective order. The types of protective orders that are available in Virginia are defined below. Protective orders are granted to prevent family abuse. Family abuse is defined as any act involving violence force, or threat including, but not limited to, any forceful detention, which results in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of bodily injury and which is committed by a person against such person's family or household member. (Virginia Code 16.1-228).

A protective order is a very powerful method of protection, as the abuser can be put in jail for violations of a protective order, and it gets the attention of the police and the response time to your call much faster.

An Emergency Protective Order (EPO) will be granted by a judge or magistrate in order to protect the health or safety of any person when it is found that a warrant was issued against the abuser in a criminal case and there is probable danger of further acts of family abuse or there are reasonable grounds to believe that the abuser committed family abuse and there is probable danger of a further offense. (Virginia Code 16.1-253.4). The EPO is valid only for three days, during which time the victim must file for Preliminary Protective Order to extend her protection under the law.

A Preliminary Protective Order (PPO) will be granted if the victim is or has been within a reasonable period subjected to family abuse. Immediate and present danger of family abuse or evidence sufficient to establish probable cause that family abuse has recently occurred constitute good cause. The PPO will be granted ex parte for up to 15 days. The permanent protective order hearing will be set within 15 days, at which time the alleged abuser must be served with notice of the hearing and the opportunity to defend against the allegations in the victim's petition for the protective order. (Virginia Code 16.1-253.1)

At the permanent protective order hearing, a Protective Order (PO) may be granted for up to 2 years in cases of family abuse to protect the health and safety of the victim and family or household members. The protection offered in a PO includes, but is not limited to the following: (Virginia Code 16.1-279.1)

  • Prohibiting acts of family abuse
  • Prohibiting contact between the abuser and victim or family members
  • Granting the victim possession of the residence occupied by the parties
  • Enjoining the abuser from terminating utility services on the residence
  • Granting the victim temporary possession of an automobile
  • Requiring the abuser to provide suitable alternative housing for the victim and household members
  • Ordering the abuser to participate in treatment and/or counseling

Of course, a PO is only a piece of paper and therefore if you are a victim you must have a safety plan in place as well. Predicting human behavior is impossible. If you are a victim you need to be prepared for the next potential act of family abuse against you. The American Bar Association has put together tips for safety planning that may save your life. For more tips you can go to the American Bar Association website: http://www.abanet.org/tips/dvsafety.html#safetips.

Safety Planning

  • Learn where to get help; memorize emergency phone numbers
  • Keep a phone in a room you can lock from the inside; if you can, get a cellular phone that you keep with you at all times
  • If the abuser has moved out, change the locks on your door; get locks on the windows
  • Plan an escape route out of your home; teach it to your children
  • Think about where you would go if you need to escape
  • Ask your neighbors to call the police if they see the abuser at your house; make a signal for them to call the police, for example, if the phone rings twice, a shade is pulled down or a light is on
  • Pack a bag with important things you'd need if you had to leave quickly; put it in a safe place, or give it to a friend or relative you trust
  • Include cash, car keys & important information such as: court papers, passport or birth certificates, medical records & medicines, immigration papers
  • Get an unlisted phone number
  • Block caller ID
  • Use an answering machine; screen the calls
  • Take a good self-defense course

Additionally, Virginia offers a 24 hour toll free Family Violence hotline: 1-800-838-8238 which you can call for resources close to you, including domestic violence shelters. The website http://www.closerthanyouthink.org/ under the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is also provides a wealth of information and resources for victims in Virginia.

The knowledge of the law, resources, and safety planning can provide great safety for victims. If you are a victim, equip yourself with the tools you need to protect your safety and the safety of your family.

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Maddox & Gerock, P.C.
8111 Gatehouse Road
Suite 410
Falls Church, VA 22042
Phone: 703-883-8035
Fax: 703-356-6120
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