KARA MISCHKE, COMMUNITY RELATIONS MANAGER: Good morning, Myra! Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions regarding the legal services Domestic Violence Program & Sexual Assault Services offers. Can you tell me a little bit about your position and what you do here?
MYRA BEASLEY, SPECIAL COURT ADVOCATE: I am the Special Court Advocate. I supervise the legal team. What that means is, they do all the work and I get all the glory! haha. I am responsible for ensuring that any victim of domestic violence that comes through our door is given the best support they can get. We will assist them in getting an order of protection if that is what the victim wants and needs to be in control of their life. Sometimes an order of protection is not the right answer for a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. When there is something else that needs to happen, I refer them to other services that will better fit their needs. I attend court with all of our victims who are seeking orders of protection. I am there to support them through the court process which may mean several court appearances before the order of protection process is completed. As the Special Court Advocate, I am in a position to build relationships in the judicial community that will assist both our agency and the victims that we support.
KM: So obviously all of the services offered are completely FREE for clients who qualify for these services. Can you briefly explain what may qualify a person?
MB: Any person who is a victim of domestic violence is qualified for services through our Court Advocacy department. To be a victim of domestic violence there must be some type of an intimate relationship. That relationship can be spousal, familial (brothers/sisters; in-laws; aunts/uncles or cousins), same sex partners, dating or former dating or possibly roommates. In addition, stalking victims (two or more unwanted contacts that would leave a reasonable person in fear) and sexual assault victims are eligible for our services whether there is an intimate partner relationship or not.
KM: Orders of Protection are a big piece of the Court Advocacy process. Could you explain exactly what an OP is?
MB: An order of protection is a civil court order that prohibits contact between parties. In the past people sought restraining orders that prevented people of coming within so many feet of another person. Those are really a thing of the past. Orders of protection prevent an abuser from making any type of contact with a victim. Contact means person to person contact, phone calls, text messages, written messages, emails, 3rd party messages and/or any type of social media contact. Orders of protection start with an ex parte order, meaning that the judge has only seen one side of the issue. A court date is set where the Judge will hear both sides of the issue. A Judge will then decide if a full Order of Protection will be granted. That full Order of Protection if violated then becomes a criminal matter that could be punished by incarceration. It should be noted that only the Respondent (abuser) can violate an order of protection.
KM: I think a misconception for many is that when they walk through the door we are going to force services on them or once they start working with a Court Advocate that they can no longer take that back. Would you elaborate on that idea?
MB:A legal Advocate’s job is to what is necessary for a victim to feel safe and in control of their lives. Orders of Protection are a victim’s choice. We will never force victims to take out an Order of Protection against their will. We will carefully explain what an Order of Protection is and the process to obtain one. Once the OP is in place it can be dismissed. If a victims decides that they no longer need or want an OP, we can file a motion to dismiss the OP. There is a court appearance involved where the Judge may question the victim as to whether they will be safe once the OP is gone, but this is a formality. Orders of Protection are civil orders and can be dismissed unlike criminal cases that are owned by the State and may be more difficult or impossible to dismiss if desired. Some victims may seek and dismiss orders of protection more than once. Previous dismissals have no impact on a victim’s ability to seek another order of protection if needed. Our door is always open.
KM: For those who do decide to move forward with the court process, it can feel extremely overwhelming and scary. What do you and your staff do to ensure a smooth process and protection for the client?
MB: I and my staff, including our attorney are here to assist the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through the entire court process. Both in the criminal and Order of Protection courts. We will assist the victim with completing the Petition for an Ex Parte and getting it filed. We will go with the victim to court and assist with negotiating the order of Protection of for preparing for trial. Our attorney will walk the victims through the hearing. I will sit with the victim at the counsel table during the trial and assist by explaining the proceedings every step of the way. We have a criminal court advocate that will attend the criminal court appearances with a victim to assist in explaining the process there and just be a moral support for a victim.
KM: Is there anything else you would like to people to know about the legal department within Domestic Violence Program & Sexual Assault Services?
MB: My advocates, attorney and I are a caring and passionate group. We will work hard to assist victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. We are all dedicated to our mission and are will to go above and beyond for our victims. Our door is always open, no matter how many times you have been to DVP&SAS