When someone is in a domestic abuse situation, they are confronted with several issues related to their safety and emotional well-being. Victims of abuse often do not know where to turn for help, as well as the different ways to try to stay safe from the abuser. Sometimes it may only feel possible to try to get through each day as it comes, and to get through each abusive incident as it happens.
At the Women’s Center & Shelter, we offer several different support groups for women in abusive situations. One of these groups is our “Court Ordered Support Group.”
The words “court ordered” may seem to imply that the person asked to attend this group was doing something wrong. However, these groups were actually set up for women who are victims of intimate partner abuse. They were either defending themselves against their partner at the time of their arrest, or had been abused by their partner in the past.
The Legal Advocacy Department at the Women’s Center & Shelter created the Court Ordered Support Group for women who are victims of intimate partner violence and were arrested during an incident with their abusive partner. In Pennsylvania, there is a mandatory arrest law for domestic violence. This means that when abuse is reported and there are physical signs of abuse, the police are required to make an arrest.
This law is meant to take the responsibility to request an arrest out of the hands of the victims and put it in the hands of the police. However, both parties involved might be arrested when it is unclear who is the primary aggressor.
If the abusive partner has physical marks, it may be hard for the police to determine who the primary aggressor is. Officers may then arrest both parties, and it is up to the court to decide how to proceed with the charges. The women who are ordered to come to group have NOT been found guilty; they have instead been given the opportunity by the courts to attend these classes, rather than be prosecuted. In other words, the District Attorney’s office will not pursue the charges if the woman ordered completes the group. Most often in cases of dual arrests, both parties are asked to attend classes.
Abuse victims are often frustrated and confused by their arrest in these situations. Many women ask “Why was I arrested for defending myself?” Several have said that they felt they had no choice but to fight back in order to avoid being killed or seriously injured by their partner.
The Court Ordered Support Group offers an opportunity for women in abusive situations to receive support and safety planning information. The 8-week group is led by advocates at the Women’s Center & Shelter. Groups are structured to give women the opportunity to share their experience with others who have gone through this situation. During the group, Advocates focus on helping women make safe choices on staying safe in their relationships. There is also a piece on anger management, which helps teach women how to regulate their emotions in a healthy way by focusing on emotional safety planning. Women’s Center’s supportive services are also discussed. These services include our other weekly support groups, emergency shelter, Legal Advocacy, and 24-hour Hotline support.
< In order to enroll in a Court Ordered Support group, a woman must be ordered by a judge to attend. She is then given the contact information for the Women’s Center & Shelter, and Hotline Advocates who are specifically trained in enrolling women for this group will give her details about the group and answer any questions she might have. After completing the group, clients are given documentation to bring to court which states the dates they attended the group sessions. After taking the Court Ordered Support Group, clients often tell us that it has been a positive experience for them. Even though they did not come to the group by choice, they were able to share their stories, as well as receive valuable support and information. They are more familiar with our other services as a result, and equipped with new tools to take care of their emotional well-being and help maintain their safety. **Women’s Center & Shelter continues to work on changing the criminal justice system so that women who are defending themselves during a domestic violence assault will not be arrested. In the meantime, Court Ordered Group offers an alternative to prosecution for victims of domestic violence.