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Court Advocacy: Through an Intern’s Eyes, Molly Kirkpatrick

Over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to go to domestic violence court in Hillsborough and serve as a court advocate on behalf of Compass Center. This role involves supporting victims of domestic violence through the court process by providing emotional support through what can sometimes be a re-traumatizing experience. Often times, victims may have to see their abusers in the courtroom, sometimes re-live their experiences by having to tell their story in a hearing, or be asked to provide sufficient proof to a judge and a room full of strangers to indicate that they are fearful and deserving of protection. Most of the time this whole process is stretched out over the course of a long, dragged out day, and most likely subsequent long days. The whole process can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for our clients, to say the very least.

In addition to the emotional stress the legal process can produce, we assist our clients through the numerous other barriers they may face in their court processes. One of the most significant of these barriers for victims is the very limited availability of low-cost or pro-bono legal counsel in the Orange County area. One might think, given the large population of law students and lawyers in the area, that it would be easy to find legal representation; however, this is not the case. Legal Aid of North Carolina is the only low-cost resource available to clients who are unable to afford a private attorney, however, due to the overwhelming need for Legal Aid’s services their office is burdened with many more cases than they are able to take. The court process is complicated and nuanced and best handled with the guidance of an experienced attorney. Given the difficulty our clients face in finding representation at a manageable cost, many of our clients have to proceed with no legal support through their court process, putting them at a possible disadvantage.

Another barrier that many of our clients face in their court process is transportation to and from the Hillsborough courthouse. Compass Center does all that it can to assist clients through this complication that often arises, which can sometimes require innovative and creative problem solving. Some of the ways that Compass Center has been able to support clients through this barrier include helping with bus passes or providing bus schedules, working with clients to find rides with family members or friends, or sometimes even coordinating cab services to and from court.

The combination of all of these barriers for our clients indicate how stressful, re-traumatizing, and alienating the experience can be for victims and highlights the need and importance of Compass Center’s Court Advocacy Program in providing support. Although the Court Advocacy Program cannot provide legal advice for clients or assist with the gap in legal services they face, it can help clients in feeling more supported on many levels. In addition to supporting clients through their court processes, Compass Center Court Advocacy Program works to connect clients at court to additional Compass Center services including support groups, safety planning and connecting clients with resources in the community. The Court Advocacy Program is also continuing to do its part in advocating for more resources for low-cost legal services in the area. I am grateful to have had an insider’s perspective on the happenings of domestic violence court proceedings and now feel even more passionate about advocating for victim services and supporting victims in any way I can.

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