October 5, 2022
October was first declared National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1989. Since then, October has been a time to acknowledge domestic violence (DV) survivors and be a voice for its victims. Victim-survivors of DV cases face many challenges ranging from language, technology, and knowledge barriers to lack of community resources and limited court staff. Though not new, these challenges have been exacerbated since the pandemic. To address how state courts can meet these challenges head-on as pandemic precautions decrease, the National Center for State Courts, with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, held intensive peer-learning sessions with representatives from partner organizations and administrative offices of the state courts to identify ways to overcome barriers to access and procedural justice in DV cases. From these sessions, NCSC identified key areas in its April 2022 report and September 2022 webinar that state courts must consider to ensure victim-survivor safety and offender accountability.
DV cases are amongst the most common court cases with self-represented litigants (SRLs). Thus, courts must consider the user experience to truly provide justice in these cases. By conducting thorough self-assessments of both in-person and remote court services, courts can identify key pain points that make the process more difficult for SRLs to understand and access these services.
Continuing and improving remote access to the courts can make it possible for more victim-survivors to achieve safety by removing barriers that prevent them from seeking court relief (e.g., for SRLs who do not speak or read English fluently or who have disabilities). Stakeholders identified that tech ability and safety considerations must be considered during the e-filing process, including educating petitioners about what may or may not be confidential. E-filing portals can make access to the court for DV cases much more feasible. Technology can provide solutions for barriers due to limited English proficiency, having a disability, and other access considerations. In order to leverage these solutions, courts must use plain language throughout the system, incorporate software such as screen readers and voice-to-text, and factor in translation and interpretation tools. However, though technology provides a variety of opportunities, technology can also serve as a barrier. Petitioners may lack the technical skills and infrastructure (e.g., bandwidth) that would make e-filing a useful pathway for finding safety.
Considering the user experience in DV court processes also means recognizing that “achieving safety” requires meeting a multitude of needs beyond what the courts can unilaterally provide. Thus, courts can partner with and serve as a key point in the referral process by connecting victim-survivors with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders in the community, educating them on court processes, and referring them to support services.
Though this effort has solidified key considerations for supporting victim-survivors as they navigate DV court processes, NCSC is seeking additional information to solidify more detailed best practice guidance to support court innovation in e-filing and portal development.
Does your court have best practices on e-filing for DV cases? Share your experiences with us. For more information, contact the author, Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Vimeo.