The mission of the DC Domestic Violence Court Watch Project is to create transparency and data-driven information through court monitoring to ensure that all victims of domestic violence have equal access to a clear, fair and consistent judicial process that prioritizes victim safety and offender accountability.
The DC Domestic Violence Court Watch Project is a collaborative project in which volunteers monitor certain judicial proceedings and provide feedback to the court, the Bar, and the community at large about a range of issues that may impact the safety of domestic violence survivors both in and out of court. Across the country, similar programs track a variety of types of cases, ranging from drunken driving, immigrant rights, and juvenile offenses to sexual assault and domestic violence. The DC Domestic Violence Court Watch Project is intended to monitor court proceedings in the Domestic Violence Unit and Family Court in cases involving allegations of domestic violence. The data is gathered via standardized forms developed in conjunction with advocates, victims, and court personnel. The first Court Watch Report was produced by SAFE, Inc. in 2006, and SAFE’s volunteers have been monitoring various issues in the DV Unit ever since. Based these observations, SAFE has produced a Pro Se Petitioner’s Guide to Civil Protection Orders, in order to provide additional assistance to survivors whom are appearing in court without attorneys.
The goals of the Court Watch Project are:
- To encourage everyone who works within the justice system of the District of Columbia to identify ways of increasing survivor safety and offender accountability in domestic violence cases.
- To improve the experience of both represented and pro se petitioners in accessing judicial relief.
Based on systematic observations, the Project will provide objective data to the court, the Bar and the general public; acknowledge exemplary actions by judges and court personnel; identify patterns within the judicial system that may be helpful or harmful to survivors of abuse and their children; assist in the creation of a dialogue between the court and the public regarding courts’ handling of domestic violence; and propose practical solutions to improve and standardize court responses to such cases. Although reports may sometimes criticize aspects of court procedures, Court Watch intends to also recognize the vast amounts of good work done within the Domestic Violence Unit and the Family Court and does not seek to restrict judicial independence.
The Project is a collaboration between Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (SAFE), Inc. and the DC Volunteer Lawyer’s Project (DCVLP). It is our hope that by monitoring the court’s treatment of cases involving domestic violence, we will be better able to help survivors effectuate their legal rights and obtain necessary protections, while ensuring that offenders are being held accountable in an appropriate way.
The DC Domestic Violence Court Watch Project is almost entirely staffed by volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering please visit dcsafe.org to learn more and fill out a volunteer application.