Cases of domestic violence have dramatically increased across the country during COVID-19. Hotline calls to Washington, DC’s largest crisis intervention agency have doubled and applications for our legal assistance have risen 33%.
The trial courts have also struggled to adjust practices, further compromising survivors' safety and access to justice. For example, abusive parents are taking advantage of court confusion over the dilemma of educating children from home versus sending them back to school. Online learning from home gives a perpetrator access to a child. Attending school risks exposure to the virus. Both are dangerous options being manipulated by abusers.
Other DV LEAP clients have described difficulty in obtaining their transcripts from the courts, delaying our legal team’s ability to assess their cases, provide an appeal, and help them get the legal protections and safety they were denied at trial.
One client, who had a fever and other possible COVID symptoms the day of her trial, was denied a continuance, even though the state's own rules prohibited her from entering the courthouse. Her inability to represent herself was a barrier to justice.
Our staff has risen to meet the changing needs of clients by meeting them where they are. As is always our practice, we begin by first listening to clients, to understand clearly the ways COVID-19 is a factor in their case. Second, staff must now critically evaluate this information through the lens of a public health crisis, discerning legal implications, and potential unique applications of the law to protect survivors. Third, staff are drawing from the experiences and knowledge of our legal advocate peers and service providers to inform our efforts on behalf of clients. We are fortunate to have a vast network, both local and national, to confer with as we all pivot to better meet the needs of survivors during this challenging crisis.