To the Editor:
There are many lessons that are learned when one works at an agency serving domestic violence victims from 15 municipal jurisdictions. As the executive director of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace (EBC) Center, an organization that does just that, I can tell you that one essential service is the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program, an initiative created in 1988 under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The EBC Center runs the court advocacy office in the Kent County Courthouse, but I am sad to say this program, and the statewide services in general, are in jeopardy.
For the past five years, state funding for the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program has been cut by 70 percent despite the steady client numbers. Last year, for example, there were 3,044 Temporary Restraining Orders granted statewide and over 5,300 District Court cases dealing with Domestic Violence – numbers similar to previous years’ data. And in addition to the municipal jurisdictions we serve, staff members from our court advocacy program also provide legal advocacy services to the RI State Police, DEM and Airport Police.
Unfortunately, domestic violence happens in every community. Knowing that the issue was so widespread, members of the General Assembly 25 years ago also acknowledged that victims face challenges in the court system when they are trying to keep themselves and their children safe. We know that these challenges still exist because we see it every day at the Kent Courthouse. From helping people file civil protective orders against abusers to working with victims on safety planning as a prerequisite to their participating in proceedings, our advocates work with a population that over and over again identifies the court process as intimidating, confusing and overwhelming.
That is why it has been so critical to send staff to the courthouse five days a week. But beginning in June, due to the drastic cuts we’ve faced in half a decade, we are only able to send staff Tuesdays through Fridays. This means that every community in Rhode Island will be looking at more victims potentially ending up in dangerous situations, including back into the lives of abusive partners. This is why we must all take a stand.
Here at the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, we’ve joined our colleagues at Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence and countless victims who are asking the R.I. legislature and Governor Chafee to restore funding. There is only a little more time in the current legislative season; the time is now. Please do the right thing – fight for restored state funding for the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program.