Emily Rice Published

Pilot Program To Allow Survivors Attend Court Virtually

A judge's gavel is shown beside a grey book titled domestic violence.iStockphoto.com

Pandemic-era technology will help survivors of domestic and sexual abuse face their alleged abuser in court – virtually. 

Officials in Lincoln, Mason and Wayne counties will hold public tests of a program that allows victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to file petitions and attend follow-up hearings without visiting a courthouse. 

Previously, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault had to go in person to a magistrate court to seek domestic violence protective orders or personal safety orders, and they had to attend follow-up hearings in person. 

According to Lisa Tackett, the director of court services for the West Virginia Supreme Court, in the pilot counties, victims can still go to court, but they also have the option of participating in the court hearings remotely from another location. 

“We’re very proud of it at the Supreme Court,” Tackett said. “All of the justices have been fully behind this program and they really want to make sure that individuals that need protection, feel safe and feel like they have an alternative.”

With the addition of Lincoln, Mason and Wayne counties, the total number of counties participating in the Remote Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Outreach Project, is seven. The other active counties are Cabell, Jefferson, Kanawha and Ohio.

“They’ve been through, in most instances, something very traumatic that has happened,” Tackett said. “These advocates are trained to deal with these individuals, to help them think about their safety, their family’s safety, and they can help them in an atmosphere that is not as intimidating as going into the courthouse.”

In a press release from the Supreme Court of Appeals, an anonymous user of the program shared their thoughts on what it meant to have this remote option: 

“When I found out about the option provided at the Sexual Assault Help Center where I could participate virtually, my anxiety was significantly reduced, and I finally felt like I can do this, and things will get better. I’m very appreciative that this virtual option is available for individuals facing the unthinkable.”