For the last 10 years, volunteer attorneys and students in central Indiana have been helping domestic violence victims obtain protective orders.
Before embarking on this process, volunteers must be trained on the purpose and use of protective orders, develop an understanding of what victims are going through and the possible reasons why they may not have sought help before, and what victims are thinking and concerned about while they’re meeting with advocates.
The Protective Order Pro Bono Project will host a training session for volunteers April 15 at the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence offices at 1915 W. 18th St. in Indianapolis. The training will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
That training will include information about the dynamics of abusive relationships, as well as information about the somewhat new protective order online registry and a pilot project in Indianapolis hospitals.
Volunteers are asked to register by April 8. ICADV Legal Director Kerry Hyatt Blomquist said the training sessions are typically well attended. She hopes to fill 50 spots.
Participants will receive five hours of free CLE credit, including one hour of ethics, in exchange for taking one pro bono case in the next 12 months. Lunch will be provided.
While this training will be specific to the project that works with advocates handling protective orders in Marion County courts, Blomquist said participants from around the state are welcome to attend. Past trainings have included participants from outside of central Indiana who wanted to start similar projects in other counties.
Trainings include an introduction and history of ICADV and POPBP. One of the latest expansions, and something that will be emphasized in the training session, is a pilot program with POPBP and Indianapolis hospitals Wishard and Indiana University Health, formerly Methodist Hospital.
As part of that program, which began last year on a limited basis, emergency room physicians and nurses who help victims of domestic violence offer their patients information on available resources. While still in the hospital, patients are also offered the option of meeting with someone from POPBP to help them file a petition.
Previously, hospitals would share information, including how to set up a safety plan and contact an advocate, but the new program helps remove some of the barriers, such as transportation, that may have prevented patients from seeking help.
Sarah Smith, a forensic nurse examiner at Wishard, said that her emergency room experience working with patients who’ve been involved in violence; particularly sexual assault and domestic violence, but also child abuse, elder abuse, and other victims of crimes; has revealed that some victims have a distrust of the police or criminal justice system and prefer not to file a report with a police officer.
However, she said, this program lets them see there is the civil option of filing for a protective order in court.
“If someone in the ER discloses that (she is) a victim of domestic violence, I’ll see them, talk with them, address any medical needs, and I will document – if they want me to – their injuries with photographs and body mapping, which is essentially charting in writing their injuries, and drawing pictures,” she said. “I’ll also offer any assistance, such as shelter placement, how to file a police report, and help patients find resources for counseling. This Protective Order Pro Bono Project is new here, but pretty exciting.”
Smith said she offers this option to anyone who comes through the door who seems to be a candidate. She added that because the majority of Wishard’s patients don’t have insurance, or if they do it is provided by the county, they cannot afford an attorney. While not everyone takes advantage of the service to file a petition for a protective order, patients who turn it down might still take information about how to file later.
Before the pilot program, she said, she could still put a victim in a shelter, but for protective orders she would have to refer them to the police department. She’d give patients the number for the police department and an advocate. With the pilot program, patients seem to be less hesitant to contact ICADV.
“We stress to them, ‘We can’t make you leave the situation,’ because it may not be the right time,” Smith said. “They may have to make arrangements for children. They may not have a dime to their name. They may have extra things going on in their lives. At least they know that’s out there and they’re (POPBP) here for them when they’re ready.”
Blomquist is also excited about the program and that it is possible because of the online protective order registry program, which was launched in July 2009. With that program, advocates can log into an online program and work with petitioners to fill out the needed information in the victim’s own words.
Blomquist asks that each person who attends training for CLE credit take on at least one case in the 12 months following the training. She said some cases might take no more than five to 10 hours of the attorney’s time, and law students are a tremendous resource for the victims and the attorneys. POPBP encourages those who’ve been trained to do more if their schedules allow.
Currently, Blomquist has about 100 volunteers she can contact. If an attorney and a volunteer can take the same case, she pairs them up. In many cases, she’ll continue to pair the same attorney and law student on subsequent cases; there have been a number of mentor relationships as a result of these pairings.
If a volunteer is not available to take a particular case when called, Blomquist keeps that volunteer’s name on the list and will contact that person the next time.
For more information about the upcoming training or POPBP, contact Blomquist at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 317-917-3685, ext. 8. Register for the training at www.icadvinc.org.•