Supporting Victims/Survivors of Domestic Violence during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S., and across the globe, more and more people are being ordered to stay home. Yet, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “home” is the “most dangerous place for women.”1 For victims/survivors of domestic violence, the ability to leave home to go to safe, public places, such as school or the workplace, is a critical protective measure. So, too, is a victim/survivor’s ability to access the courts to obtain emergency protection and relief.  

On March 13, 2020, Governor Walz declared a peacetime emergency, which imposed restrictions of a wide range of public activities.2 And on March 25, 2020, Governor Walz issued a stay-at-home order effective midnight Friday, March 27 until April 10, 2020. The state’s district and appellate courts remain open, but have limited their operations. As essential safety services, domestic violence programs also remain open. If you are experiencing violence, please call Minnesota’s 24/7 crisis hotline at 866.223.1111 or text 612.399.9995. [Text Wrapping Break] 

“COVID-19: Court Changes for…OFP Cases During the Pandemic”* 

Education for Justice (Law HelpMN) & the MN Judicial Branch 

*modified and condensed from original version 

What has changed? On March 16, 2020, the courts  split case types up into different groups. A “High Priority” group of cases will continue as normal. The rest of cases are suspended for 14 days. 

What are “High Priority” cases? Cases that involve your safety are “High Priority.” All court cases related to domestic violence are in the “High Priority” category. You can see the full list here: http://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/CIOMediaLibrary/Limited-Court-Service-Case-Priorities-List-with-Definitions.pdf  

As of March 23, 2020, the parties and attorneys to an OFP case may appear remotely.3 

If you have exhibits, you should ask the judicial officer how best you can present those exhibits if appearing remotely.  

Can I still file for a restraining order or order for protection? Yes. You can still file a case for restraining orders or orders for protection. Your county might have different rules about how to come to court for this.  

If you feel unsafe, call an advocate. A domestic violence advocate who knows the process and can support you through all of the steps. Violence Free Minnesota has a statewide online directory of advocacy agencies. You can also call their 24-hour crisis line at (866).223.1111. 

You can also call your Legal Aid office. Find your Legal Aid office here: https://www.lawhelpmn.org/providers-and-clinics. You can also apply for help from Legal Aid online: www.justice4mn.org. In-person clinics are probably canceled during the COVID-19 outbreak.   

For more information, check out the following resources: 

https://www.lawhelpmn.org/self-help-library/fact-sheet/covid-19-court-changes-housing-family-and-ofp-cases-during-pandemic

http://www.mncourts.gov/Help-Topics/Domestic-Abuse-and-Harassment.aspx#GetOFP

https://www.vfmn.org/

http://www.mnlegalservices.org/

How do I file for a restraining order or order for protection if I don’t want to leave my house? Use Minnesota Guide & File to create the forms you need to Ask for a MN Restraining Order – either an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order. You can file the forms electronically (eFile) through Guide & File, or print your completed forms. For more information, visit the Guide & File Help Topic on the MN Judicial Branch Website. Your county might have different rules for whether or not you can file by paper, so call the court to confirm (For Hennepin County District Court, call (612).348.6000​). Other counties’ numbers include:  

Ramsey County: (651) 266- 5130 

Washington County: (651) 430-6261  (Family Court) 

Stearns County: (320) 656-3880 (Victim Assistance Coordinators) 

Criminal Justice System Responses to COVID-19 

Minnesota’s criminal justice and legal systems are attempting to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by issuing new guidelines to prevent/reduce the transmission of the virus.  

How does this affect victims/survivors of domestic violence? According to the MN Department of Corrections: 

“Under the new guidance, if an offender violates the terms of his/her release, supervision agents and hearing officers are being asked to assess the level of danger posed by the violation before revoking the client’s probation/parole and taking the client into custody. Overall, agents and hearing officers are being asked to be as conservative as possible when it comes to taking violators into custody. 

However, if the violation or new crime provides evidence that the individual poses a credible threat to an individual victim or to the general public, agents can bring someone into custody and/or request a hearing through the Hearings and Release Unit.”  

What if my abuser is currently in state prison? Will he/she be released now? Most likely not. The MN Department of Corrections noted: 

The MN DOC is not talking about releasing incarcerated individuals to reduce prison populations at this time; rather, they are focused on reducing the numbers of individuals coming in for low-level violations and crimes, and possible early release of some inmates whose release dates are less than 120 days and who have approved release plans in place. (Of the ~130 individuals being considered for this modified work release with increased levels of contact with DOC staff, all are individuals who are considered low-risk based on the DOC’s scoring assessments.)” 

Will this affect whether I am notified through VINE or MN DOC system of my abuser’s release? No. Nothing has changed in regards to victim notification; it still depends entirely on whether or not victims have registered for notification in the MN DOC system (https://mn.gov/doc/assets/VICTIM_NOTIFICATION_REQUEST_FORM_2015_tcm1089-276323.pdf). It is critical to understand how notification operates, and that VINE (county jail) registration does not transfer to HAVEN (MN DOC/state prison) registration. 

For more information, check out the following resources: 

https://mn.gov/doc/

https://mn.gov/doc/family-visitor/search-offenders-fugitives/

https://www.vinelink.com/#/home

By Rosalyn Park, Women’s Human Rights Program Director at The Advocates For Human Rights

Working Together for Women’s Human Rights in Moldova

Report launch in Moldova

By Mary Ellingen

Chisinau, Moldova, is a place where the Soviet footprint is still visible. Stray dogs greet you at the airport. Tall, half-destroyed bloc apartments are the first buildings you see on your way into town. People live there, and lots of them, to judge from the laundry flapping out over each unfurnished balcony. The trees in the shabby but gracious old city are whitewashed from their roots up nearly three feet to encourage their growth. Most of the buildings are one or two stories in various states of disrepair, with the formerly lovely intricate stucco trim now crumbling. But I don’t let the appearance of things fool me—the people and government of Moldova are making real progress on protecting and advancing women’s rights.

The Advocates for Human Rights is here, at the invitation of our local partner, to launch our newest report, “Implementation of the Republic of Moldova’s Domestic Violence Legislation.” The report is the product of three weeks in 9 cities and rayons, 67 interviews with 130 people, and a year’s research and writing. The study was funded by The Advocates’ donors, who are working to stop violence against women in Moldova. There is also a strong UN and other international organization and government presence in Chisinau: UNFPA, UNICEF, OSCE, IOM, to name a few. All of them want Moldova to advance along the path to democracy and financial independence.  Moldova’s economic woes are beyond the scope of our project, but suffice it to say that the Soviets named Moldova the wine-producer for the entire Soviet Union and failed to encourage diversification.  Wine is still a local triumph and regional export, but it is not able to carry the Moldovan economy, and the country remains one of the poorest in Europe.

Our report’s focus, domestic violence, has likely been impacted by the struggling economy. A 2011 study conducted by the Moldovan National Statistics Bureau found that 64% of women here have been victims of physical, economic, or psychological violence. That’s a very high statistic– most other sources say 25-30% of women are victims worldwide. The Moldovans passed a good law a few years ago but are struggling to implement it so that it really does protect women, despite ground-breaking leadership with their codification of a coordinated community response. The coordinated community response means that multi-disciplinary teams are formed to meet the specific needs of victims in five regions of the country. When it works, it works well.

Our local partner arranged two events for the launch of our report: an official presentation at the Commission for Gender Equality, presided over by the Deputy Prime Minister and broadcast live on TV, and an all-day roundtable discussion the next day, to which the international organizations, government officials, and people who work on the front lines with victims were invited. That first meeting at the Commission consisted of all government folks, and some were just the right high-level ones you’d want to hear your findings: the Minister of Social Protection, Labour and the Family, for instance, who has decision-making power to fund and staff many more shelters and crisis centers, desperately needed in this country, where there are only 106 shelter beds for 3.5 million people. The next day, the room on the 6th floor of the Ministry of Labour, Social Protection and Family was packed with people around the table cluttered with the microphones, cords, and headphones necessary for simultaneous translation.  Twenty other people sat on chairs around the edge of the room. Turns out those people on the edges were the international donors: OSCE, the Norwegian government, IOM, Winrock, and the U.S. Embassy. The people at the table were the ones on the ground: a judge, a police officer, a prosecutor, the legal assistance coordinator, and several lawyers who serve victims.  Of course, there were many service providers, who work every day to find a bed for a woman in crisis, who set up the multi-disciplinary teams, who help a victim get an order for protection and find safety from a violent offender.

We talked about the report in more detail that day– outlining all of our findings and telling the stories of victims we’d heard from many small villages, a prison, and the few large urban areas like Chisinau.  We tried to make the law’s problems come alive with each victim’s story. Each time we stated a “finding of concern” we made a corresponding recommendation to the Parliament, the police, the judiciary, or the service providers themselves. As we had hoped, our presentation rapidly changed from a PowerPoint into a vibrant dialogue with the professionals at the table. These were their jobs we were describing. They clarified points of interest; proudly informed us of improvements made since our report, and at times challenged our findings, always respectfully. They nodded when they heard our explanations, recommendations, made suggestions, and took detailed notes. We had to be reminded to take a coffee break, and soon to head across the street for lunch.

After lunch, despite the beautiful Friday afternoon, the interest of the stakeholders around the table hadn’t lagged. Once again, we were in the thick of a wonderful give-and-take. In the afternoon we skipped our coffee break completely.

While the obstacles are huge, we have a sense that leaders here in Moldova are accepting real responsibility for stopping violence against women. They are ready to step up to fight for legislative change, for more resources for shelter beds, and for training at all levels of the government response —  all to make victims of violence safer in Moldova. The motto of our Moldovan partner, the Women’s LawCenter, is “Advancing Women’s Rights Together.” The people we have worked with here are doing just that.

Mary Ellingen is a staff attorney with Women’s Human Rights Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.