Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe Flood
I’ve recently been a victim of domestic violence, and I spent weeks trying to figure out what I needed to do to help myself and where I could go to do just that. Trying to navigate uncharted legal territory when you’re confused and scared for your own safety is NOT fun. There are plenty of great resources and options for domestic violence victims in DC, but it took a lot of work and dedication to figure out what they are. I decided to compile a list of the resources and information that I found throughout my process in hopes that it might help someone else in the future. There are probably more resources out there, but these are the ones I know of:
Some awesome resources
DC Safe: If you need to get a restraining order (see below on this) the Domestic Violence Unit at the DC Courthouse SHOULD refer you to a group called DC Safe. If they don’t, contact them yourself (walk-in office hours 8:30am-4pm M-F; DC Superior Courthouse: 500 Indiana Avenue NW, Suite 4550 and United Medical Center: 1320 Southern Ave SE, Room 311). They will provide you with information about other resources, assign you an advocate to help you with your case, and answer any questions you might have. They can’t provide legal advice, but they will try to put you in touch with a pro-bono lawyer if you want them to.
DCVLP: The D.C. Volunteer Lawyers Project . This is an AMAZING resource for many reasons. They represent domestic violence victims pro-bono. They offer a free legal clinic for domestic violence victims every week. They are super serious and dedicated to helping victims.
The Women’s Center: The Women’s Center has locations in Vienna, VA and downtown DC. They provide counseling to abuse and assault victims, educational programs, group therapy sessions, and much more.
DASH: District Alliance for Safe Housing provides safe housing for domestic violence victims in DC.
MSP: My Sister’s Place also provides safe housing for domestic violence victims
Crime Victims Compensation Fund: If you have incurred expenses because you’ve been a victim of a crime (hospital bills, changing your locks, relocating, theft, etc.), you can apply to this fund for reimbursement or direct payment of your expenses. They’ll cover up to a certain amount depending on the expense type, but they will pay for a LOT of various things.
Doorways (In Arlington, VA):
Doorways helps with homelessness, domestic violence, and sexual assault. They have a 24 hour hotline, should you have any questions or concerns. They have 2 safe houses, offer court advocacy assistance, financial planning assistance, and more.
LawHelp.org info: Website with a lot of good, general information on domestic violence, getting help, and preparing for court.
Civil Protection Orders (Restraining Orders)
If you need to get a restraining order against someone (a temporary protection order, or TPO), go to the DC Superior Courthouse at 500 Indiana Ave NW. Go the Domestic Violence unit on the 4th floor to fill out the paperwork.
You will go in front of a judge who will review your paperwork, and unless you are totally full of BS, will most likely grant you a TPO and a court date for a year-long civil protection order (CPO). TPOs last 2 weeks.
It is YOUR responsibility to ensure that your abuser is served with the court papers that notify him/her of both the TPO and his/her obligation to show up for the court date. This can be much easier said than done. See the next section for more on serving the papers.
Whether you have a TPO (good for 2 weeks) or a CPO (good for 1 year), if your abuser violates it, call 911 immediately. Take a picture of the abuser for proof ONLY if you can do so safely.
Keep a copy of your TPO or CPO with you at all times. If you do have to call 911 because your abuser violates it, you’ll need to show a copy to the police.
Serving Court Papers
Your abuser must be served with the court papers (both the protection order and the notice of court hearing) as official notice and summons to show up for your court date. It must be done in person. You cannot do it yourself, but anyone else over the age of 18 can.
You can hire a process server to serve the papers to your abuser if you so choose.
I DO know that the Virginia Sheriff will serve TPO papers for free if the abuser has an address in Virginia. But they may not make much of an effort – keep on them about it.
If you are unable to get your abuser served by your court date, the judge will ask you if you would like your TPO extended for 2 more weeks and assign you a new court date.
If you are STILL unable to find your abuser, you can file a Motion for Alternative Service. You can do this yourself or have a lawyer do it for you. If you do it yourself, you’ll need some help – see above for some legal resources. Basically, you’re asking the court to allow you to serve the person by alternate means (such as email or certified mail) and you have to show that you’ve made every effort to find your abuser and serve them in the traditional way.”