This story was written by a Project Safeguard legal advocate (Heidi) when asked to describe her day.
A woman walks into a crowded courtroom searching for someone to answer a question. She sees someone with a Project Safeguard name tag. The woman asks how she can get a protection order.
Like so many other times that day, the advocate presents the woman with a stack of papers and begins to describe the process. The woman’s heart is racing as she was barely able to leave home without suspicion.
The woman stares blankly at the page and starts shaking. The form asks, “Describe the most recent incident, the most serious incident, any past incidents,” but there have been so many; they all run together. The advocate – recognizing the look on the woman’s face- begins to address the questions one at a time. The woman, still shaking, starts to calm down and begins to write .
She asks, “How do you write so much in such a small space?” The advocate gently encourages her to focus on one incident at a time and the exact words spoken. The woman writes small to fit her story on the four cramped lines provided on the form.
With her personal trauma on paper for a stranger to read, the woman continues filling in the blanks, trying to remember addresses as she ponders where to stay once she leaves. The advocate asks about safety; “Does he know where this place is? Does he have access ? Does she feel safe there? Is there another option for the next few nights?” She makes a choice and adds the address to the form. Signing her name, she’s done it – almost.
The advocate explains the legal process to this woman who’s never been in court, let alone represented herself. The Advocate helps her prepare for addressing the judge, let’s her know where to stand and why there may be others in the court. Once the Temporary Protection Order is granted, the advocate explains how to have it served, how far the defendant needs to stay away, what “temporary care and control” mean and the next court date.
The advocate offers the woman a clinic to prepare for the Permanent Order hearing. The court expects procedures to be followed when questioning a witness and addressing the court. The chance to prepare with an attorney will be helpful.
The woman is distracted by reality; she has to find a way to get the kids safely to her mother’s house before he discovers what’s happened. Her heart and mind begin racing again as she nervously takes her papers from the clerk. With a few clothes and important papers in the trunk, she drives for the kids school realizing this is not the end but rather the beginning as she heads into her new future.