Every year since 1988, victims of domestic violence have been able to receive assistance and services from the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program. And, every year since 2007, the funds for this program have been drastically slashed it is now unable to fully operate with only $129,094 of its original $425,000 budget. It is impossible to staff four courthouses, 5 days a week with this very limited funding. The bottom line for victims of domestic violence is clear: the funds must be restored.
The statewide programs court advocates provide services in every city in Rhode Island through the four regional district courthouses Garrahy, Noel, McGrath and Murray. As set forth by the law, these advocates help victims navigate the legal system by educating them about their rights and assisting them in securing those rights; informing victims of the availability of protective orders and helping them obtain them as appropriate; and referring them to vital social services. These are all critical steps in increasing victim safety steps that can be overwhelming to those in crisis with no legal background.
In 2012, the courts had more than 8,000 victims of domestic violence seeking advocacy services. This included more than 3,000 civil protective orders and 5,000 criminal proceedings. Unfortunately, with over 70 percent of the programs core funding eliminated over the last seven years, as well as various federal reductions that have had an impact on the agencies, it has become impossible to provide the same level of service.
Victims needing assistance will be able to access services and meet with advocates Tuesday through Friday, while other offices, staff and operational functions in the courthouses will remain the same. Victims can still file a restraining order with the family or district court clerk on Mondays if they need one immediately. And for those needing other support services, the victims of crime helpline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-494-8100.
Those concerned about the closings, are asked to call their representative or senator to implore them to restore funding that provides lifesaving services to thousands of domestic violence victims.