NY abuse victims seek court protection via Skype

Going to court can be an intimidating process, especially when it has to do with seeking an order of protection from an abusive partner. But now a plan is in place to help those victims.

"It allows litigants to file for a family court order of protection through video conference when there is a reason for that client to not be able to appear in court," said Alison Attanasio, an attorney at Sanctuary for Families. The nonprofit works with survivors of intimate-partner violence.

She said many of her clients are relieved to learn about a new state program that allows victims seeking a court order of protection to skip the courthouse. They can meet with the judge via Skype from several safe locations in the state. The Manhattan Family Justice Center is one of those locations.

"The survivors can also feel very intimidated by the court process, especially for those clients we have who may be undocumented, the fear they have going to court is very real for them," said Erin Mears, deputy director at the Manhattan Family Justice Center.

The Skype process can only be done for the very first appearance where the client is petitioning for the order of protection, but Attanasio said that is when it is most important, because victims don't have that protection yet.

"We have a number of clients who are being tracked by their abusers through tracking devices, through their cell phones, so they can be concerned that their abuser is going to follow them to court, be waiting for them outside of court," Attanasio said.

According to a state judge, the Manhattan Family Justice Center is one several locations, in 12 counties in New York where victims can Skype with the court. The goal is to implement the program statewide in the next two years.