To the editor:
In less than two weeks, things are going to be different on Mondays — at least in the Murray Judicial Complex in Newport and in other district court offices around the state. That is because for the first time in 25 years, the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program will be operating four days per week, Tuesday through Friday, and closed every Monday.
As the executive director of Women’s Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties, I can tell you that there will be victims of domestic violence forced into dangerous situations if members of the Rhode Island legislature do no do the right thing before the close of session: Restore funding for this vital program.
The Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program has existed since 1988, after it was mandated as part of the passage of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The General Assembly, upon passing the act, acknowledged that there are various challenges facing victims who are trying to access the court system to keep themselves and, in many cases, their children safe from abusers. Nevertheless, over the past five years, more than 70 percent of the domestic violence court advocacy program funds have been cut from the program, despite a continual need.
As far as the Newport Court, we know that some of our clients find themselves seeking temporary protective orders for the first time; that many are dealing with uncertainty and fear while trying to navigate the complicated judicial system; and that many have questions about child custody, housing and basic needs. As a member agency of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, we know that statewide, 3,044 temporary restraining orders were granted last year — the same time period in which over 5,300 cases dealing with domestic violence were heard in District Court. And we know that the number of clients needing court advocacy services remains steady every year.
It is time for House Judiciary Chairman Helio Melo, Gov. Lincoln Chafee and their colleagues in the R.I. State House to enact real policies that help end domestic violence. It is time to restore the budget to a place that secures victims’ rights to safety. And it is time for members of the community to join our compassionate and caring advocates who fight alongside and on behalf of victims of domestic violence before victims are forced to stand alone.
Executive director, Women’s Resource Center