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Study: Courts Leave Domestic Violence Victims Vulnerable

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Laurie Duker is the executive director of Court Watch Montgomery, the nonprofit that presented a list of safety recommendations for domestic violence victims to Montgomery County
Markette Smith
Laurie Duker is the executive director of Court Watch Montgomery, the nonprofit that presented a list of safety recommendations for domestic violence victims to Montgomery County

Domestic violence victims in Montgomery County are often put at risk -- not only by their offenders -- but by the judges who try them. Victims of domestic violence are often made to walk outside of the courtroom alongside the offender who was just tried for assaulting them.

"Very intimidating," says Enid Gonzalez-Alemain, a lawyer with the advocacy group Casa de Maryland. "And that's why I so admire the court watchers, right?" 

She's referring to a non-profit group Court Watch Montgomery that is led by victim's rights advocate Laurie Duker.  "The judges do so much right, a lot of people walk out happy with strong orders, but sometimes judges can be rude," says Duker.

Duker says judges don't think beyond the courtroom. In the past year, her group has monitored 642 restraining order hearings in Montgomery County District Court and found that in 85 percent of cases, "Both the offender and the victim walk out together," says Duker. "They're both released at the same time, and as you can imagine that is a very dangerous situation."

The study also found that victims and abusers are frequently left alone in waiting rooms. 

"A woman may have waited 10 years to come to court, and she comes and something doesn't go right and she never comes back," says Duker.

In nearly 20 percent of cases, Spanish speaking victims can't understand what's being said in the court room -- and that's a problem, says Gonzalez-Alemain: "Just picture yourself hearing a snippet of everything that's going on and not understanding the big picture," she says.

The group presented a list of safety recommendations at the District Court in Rockville Monday.

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