This post is part of DC SAFE’s CourtWatch project, which provides system analysis of Civil Court, as experienced by survivors of domestic violence, through observation of Court proceedings in partnership with the DC Superior Court. This is the new home of CourtWatch updates; archived posts can be found here.
Demographics and CPO Outcomes
As part of our ongoing examination of data from the 2014-2015 CourtWatch Project, we’re examining case outcomes in the DC Superior Court’s Domestic Violence Unit, where survivors of domestic violence can obtain legal protection from abusers. For background on Civil Protection Orders (CPOs), the process for obtaining them, and the broad outcomes of cases, see previous posts in this thread. We’ve already looked at demographics and outcomes in CPO court separately; this post will examine the relationship between demographics and the disposition of cases. This post will focus primarily on the identity of the Petitioner, or the party who brings the case–but we’ll also consider the Respondent’s identity.
A special note is required to explain the careful focus on the Petitioner: DC SAFE’s CourtWatch, while a data collection and advocacy project, maintains a strong survivor-focused lens. We don’t just attempt to examine the way a civil litigant experiences the justice system–we want to know how a survivor experiences it. This is not a lack of objectivity, but rather an active effort to maintain it; only in relatively recent history have justice systems begun to treat domestic violence as the serious criminal offenses they are, and barriers remain stacked against many survivors. Furthermore, it is both unreasonable and unscientific to assume that the majority of claims brought are baseless.
CourtWatch analysis never assumes that a Petitioner is a survivor of violence; in fact, as bears great consideration in some of the statistics presented below, this legal process is often used by abusers to create accusations against survivors. However, in the broadest samples and populations, it is still both reasonable and vital to keep our sharpest focus on the experience of Petitioners in the Court system, as this almost certainly gives us perspective on the real experience of survivors seeking justice.
PETITIONER GENDER AND CASE OUTCOME
The vast majority of cases appearing before the Domestic Violence Unit at the DC Superior Court involve female-identified Petitioners filing allegations and seeking protection against male-identified Respondents. Of 850 cases observed in which a gender identity was recorded (for information on how and why observations on presentations of identity were made and recorded, please see the second blog post in this series) for the a Petitioner who was present, 673 Petitioners were identified as female, and 177 were identified as male.
The following chart displays the outcomes as Granted, Denied, and Dismissed, based on Petitioner gender. Numerous more technical outcomes of cases are possible; however, these three outcome categories describe all cases that receive a final determination, and are not continued to a later date.
- 34.92% of female-identified Petitioners had a CPO granted.
- 28.25% of male-identified Petitioners had a CPO granted.
- 1.78% of female-identified Petitioners had a CPO denied.
- 6.78% of male-identified Petitioners had a CPO denied.
- Both male-identified and female-identified Petitioners in cases with an observed Petitioner gender had similar rates of CPOs dismissed — approximately 15%.
- Both male-identified and female-identified Petitioners in cases with an observed Petitioner gender had similar rates of final disposition — approximately 51%.
From this data, it appears that male-identified Petitioners face a significant barrier in obtaining CPOs — experiencing a higher rate of denial and a lower rate of granted orders. This may be due to additional stigma facing male-idenfied survivors, but without additional data, the small significance is quite possibly due to fact that many male-identified abusers file Petitions against their victims in order to discredit them, or to strike back against legal action against them (frequently known as a “cross petition.”) Later blog posts will examine demographics and how they impact other case factors, such as judicial behavior toward the parties.
Additional note: For each category of data presented in this post, we will make observation on the total rate of “final disposition.” This factor, which measures whether or not a case was continued to a later date or a final order, denial, or dismissal was issued, should not be examined across categories or charts, but only within them. For example, the chart above presents data from cases observed where a Petitioner was present for the hearing. In cases where the Petitioner is absent, the outcome is almost always dismissal, which would presume a much higher rate of case resolution. Similarly, in charts that follow, cases in which a Respondent is also present and demographic indicators are observed for both parties also impacts the rate at which cases might be presumed to be resolved. In short, statistics on overall case resolution is only meant to present differences in the way that particular individual might be treated from others in a similar case.
The following chart displays case outcomes when both Parties, Petitioner and Respondent, were present and whose gender was observed.
- Female-identified Petitioners filing against female-identified Respondents had the highest likelihood that a CPO would be granted, but also faced relatively high rates of denial and dismissal.
- Male-identified Petitioners had lower rates of CPOs being granted, regardless of the gender of their Respondent, but especially if filing against a female-identified Respondent.
- 8.06% of Petitions by male-identified Petitioners filed against other men were denied outright, the highest of any group.
Finally, this chart digs even deeper, and looks only at cases that are considered “Intimate Partner Violence,” where the relationship between present and observed parties involves a past or present relationship, a marriage, or shared children.
- Men filing against their male-identified intimate partners had nearly a quarter of their Petitions denied outright, vastly exceeding any other group.
- Female-identified Petitioners filing against their female-identified intimate partner had complete case resolution, and the highest rate of CPOs granted.
This data presents at least once concerning figure. While some statistically-informed assumptions about male-identified Petitioners filing against female-identified Respondents support the idea that some amount of the disparity in resolutions in male-identified Petitioners’ favor is due to abusers filing against their victims, the fact that male-identified IPV petitioners face a high rate of denial definitively calls for additional scrutiny, and potentially indicates a need for greater resources for LGBTQ survivors of violence. It is vital to note that this data, while rigorous, is largely uncontrolled and anecdotal. Due to the fact that a very small percentage of cases filed at the DV Unit are filed by men against men, and less than 30% of those are filed against intimate partners, the samples are too small to draw definitive conclusions on whether or not bias or barriers are to blame. To be clear, there were fewer than 100 cases of men filing against men observed, and only 12 were definitively IPV.
PETITIONER ETHNICITY AND CASE OUTCOMES
Washington, DC is a diverse city, with dozens of ethnic and national backgrounds represented in all Wards. However, it is also a divided city, with a slight majority of African Americans, many of whom are concentrated in communities east of the Anacostia river, where a lack of economic, housing, and transportation resources can present significant barriers to safety and wellbeing of victims of violence. The city’s white population is growing, due to an influx of new residents from outside the immediate urban boundary, and there is a fast-growing population of Hispanic residents, as the historic Latin American communities in the city expand and immigration increases.
Domestic violence has long been known to affect communities of all ethnic backgrounds, but its appearance and impact are not equal. With the economic welfare challenges faced by many black residents of the District, CPO Petitioners are overwhelmingly African American. Of all cases observed where a Petitioner was present and whose ethnicity was observed and recorded, 84.25% of Petitioners were identified as black or African American.
The following chart presents case outcomes — once again, only final dispositions observed are included in this count, categorized as cases Granted, Denied, or Dismissed — for all such cases where a Petitioner was present and an ethnicity recorded.
- Hispanic Petitioners had the highest rate of CPOs being granted, with no recorded case of denials, of any single ethnic group.
- Asian Petitioners faced vastly disproportionate dismissals and denials, with half of their cases being dismissed and 8.33% denied.
The fact that Hispanic Petitioners did not have high rates of dismissal, non-closure of cases (only 44% of cases for Hispanic Petitioners were continued, slightly below the average), and did not have any outright denials is possibly due to dedicated outreach in recent years to this community. DC SAFE has partnered with the DC Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs to create a dedicated hotline for Spanish-speaking survivors of domestic violence, and maintains a bilingual advocacy staff to ensure language access is not a barrier. In addition, the Chief Judge of the Domestic Violence Unit, the Honorable Jose Lopez, was observed by numerous CourtWatch volunteers devoting significant time to ensure Petitioners had a practical-language understanding of expectations in the Court and of the CPO process in most cases that appeared before him.
The next chart examines cases in which an ethnicity was observed for both parties.This chart specifically examines whether or not white Petitioners face any outcome advantages over other Petitioners of other ethnicities.
- In cases where a white Petitioner filed against a non-white Respondent, there were no recorded cases of denials or dismissals–the only recorded demographic factor that correlated with this outcome.
- Conversely, white Petitioners filing against white Respondents had the highest rate of cases denied outright.
- Cases brought by non-white Petitioners against non-white Respondents constituted the vast majority of observed cases, and fit with the averages observed in other charts in this post.
- Non-white petitioners filing against white Respondents were by far the least likely to be resolved in a hearing and the least likely to have an order granted.
It should once again be observed that the samples for this particular chart, particularly in the significant statistics in the first and in the final column, are exceedingly small. As such, they may not be in any way definitive. However, the fact that white litigants — either Petitioner or Respondent — both seem likely to enjoy significant advantage over non-white parties in the same situation when they are opposing a non-white party, calls for significant scrutiny to determine whether bias or barriers lead to this disparity, and what might be done to improve access for non-white individuals.
PETITIONER AGE AND CASE OUTCOMES
The final demographic factor this post will consider is the age of Petitioners, and the outcomes that correlate to each age group. CourtWatch observation currently records the perceived age of Petitioners and Respondents (when present) in one of four categories: individuals 25 years and younger (17% of all observed), individuals 26 to 39 years (58%), individuals 40 to 50 years (15%), and individuals 51 and older (10%).
- Each age group faces roughly similar percentage of cases granted, denied, or dismissed.
- Individuals in both of the older two categories had dismissals at a rate of 8.15% and 8.45% respectively, compared to 9.92% and 11.59% for the first two categories.
- Individuals 51 and older were somewhat less likely to have their case receive final disposition (36% versus approximately 41% for the other groups).
These results indicate, broadly, a strongly equal way each age group experiences the CPO Court Process. The slight differences are statistically small. Of note is the rate at which older CPO Petitioners were slightly less likely to receive a final disposition to their case, indicating that a greater percentage of their cases were marked to be continued. As the majority of cases receiving a Continuance are cases where there has been a lack of Service of Process on the Respondent, this indicates a potential challenge for older Petitioners in locating or serving Respondents in their cases.
The next chart once again digs deeper in examining the ages of both parties in observed cases, when both parties were present.
- Almost all categories in this chart include samples of smaller than 100 individuals, and so conclusions should only be drawn carefully.
- The three groups most likely to have an order granted against the Respondent were in cases where the Petitioner was older than the Respondent. Given the range of ages within each group, one possible explanation is that a significant number of these cases involve a parent alleging violence by their children.
- Conversely, younger Petitioners filing against older Respondents had low rates of granted orders, and stronger rates of orders denied.
- Age group peers had the highest rates of cases dismissed. In these cases where both parties were present, this usually indicates a Petitioner voluntarily dismissing a case.
Civil Protection Order Process and Outcomes
As part of our ongoing examination of data from the 2014-2015 CourtWatch Project, we’re examining case outcomes in the DC Superior Court’s Domestic Violence Unit, where survivors of domestic violence can obtain legal protection from abusers. Our previous post examined the demographics of parties who appeared in DV Court. Today’s post will look at the broad outcomes of these cases, and describe the process that survivors go through to obtain these outcomes. Later posts will look more deeply at how demographic and other factors related to Petitioners (those who file cases claiming abuse) and Respondents (the party filed against) may correlate to specific outcomes.
As our last post described, Civil Protection Orders (or CPOs) are an important and powerful tool for survivors in finding safety after an incident of domestic violence, and also a critically important way to hold offenders legally accountable for their actions. Through a CPO request a survivor can present his or her story to the Court and seek a number of different kinds of relief—stay-away orders, no-contact orders, temporary custody of children, and mandatory counseling intervention for the alleged abuser—among others.
The process of obtaining a Civil Protection Order in DC Superior Court:
In order to obtain a protection order, the Petitioner (person who is applying for the order) must go through a multi- step process.
First: A survivor goes in-person to the DC Superior Court, or the satellite office at United Medical Center and files a petition at the Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC). Petitioners may receive the assistance of one or more agencies located at the DVICs in filing their paperwork, and may be connected to additional advocacy or supportive services at that time.
Petitioners who feel they are in immediate danger may also request a TPO (Temporary Protection Order) in addition to the CPO. A TPO, if granted by a judge, becomes immediately effective and enforceable as soon as the Respondent is served with a copy of the Court’s order and the filing. Temporary protection under the TPO lasts for 14 days (usually until the final hearing for the CPO), or until renewed by a judge, replaced with a CPO, or vacated (withdrawn). If a Petitioner requests a TPO, s/he will have a hearing in front of a judge the same day as the filing.
During the next 2 weeks, the Respondent (the person against whom the petition is brought) must be served with the Petition, the Court’s Notice of Hearing and Order to Appear, as well as the TPO. The Respondent may be served by the police or any person 18 years or older. The Respondent does not need to accept the papers, but they need to be handed to him or her.
If, after the respondent is served, s/he violates the TPO, the Petitioner can report the violation immediately to the police or to the Court. The Petitioner should consider also collecting any evidence (text messages, voicemail, social media postings, pictures, witnesses, medical bills, etc), or obtaining legal advice and information, which is often available in the DVICs (you do not need a lawyer to get a Civil Protection Order, but it can be helpful).
The CPO Hearing occurs 2 weeks after the Petitioner files a petition for a CPO/TPO, though it may be Continued (extended to a new date) for a variety of reasons. Petitioners who have been unable to serve a Respondent or cannot make it to Court for any reason should notify the DVIC and the Court as soon as possible, as there may be assistance available, and the case may be Continued rather than merely Dismissed.
If the Respondent has been served and is present at the hearing…
The parties will first be required to meet separately with an attorney negotiator to try to reach an agreement about the CPO, though parties are not obligated to reach one.
If an agreement is reached: the judge will review the order to make sure that everyone involved understands the terms of the order; both parties will then sign the order which will be effective for one year. The resulting order is often called a Consent Order.
If no agreement is reached: a hearing will be held in front of a judge who will hear any witnesses or any evidence of injury or threats. After listening to both sides, the judge will make a decision. The resulting Contested Case results in a CPO or a CPO denial.
If the Respondent is not present at the hearing…
…And the respondent was served: then there will be a Default ruling and the judge may issue the CPO in the Respondent’s absence if s/he finds there is reasonable belief that harm occurred.
…And if the respondent was not served: the Petitioner can ask to Continue the case, which means that the judge will reschedule the hearing to allow time for the Respondent to be served with the Protection Order. A judge may also Dismiss the case, if s/he feels it is appropriate.
If neither party is present at the hearing, then the case is usually Dismissed.
General outcomes for victims who have petitioned for Civil Protection Orders in DC Superior Court:
Of the CPO cases that were recorded by CourtWatch volunteers:
- 39% of all cases were Continued
- 27% of all cases were Dismissed
- 19% of all cases had a Consent Order, and ultimately granted the CPO
- 8% of all cases had a Default Order
- 8% of cases that had a default order, the CPO was granted;
- <1% of cases that had a default order, the CPO was denied.
- 7% of all cases were contested
- In 4% of cases the case was contested and the CPO was granted
- In 3% of all cases the case was contested and the CPO was denied
- In 0% of all cases) the case was contested and continued.
When a CPO is Dismissed, it can be dismissed With Prejudice, or Without Prejudice. When a case is Dismissed With Prejudice, it means the Judge has found cause to permanently dismiss the claims of the Petitioner, preventing these claims from being brought again in a new case. Cases Dismissed Without Prejudice may be re-filed, or filed as part of a new case.
Of the CPO dismissals that were recorded by CourtWatch volunteers:
- 51% were dismissed without prejudice due to Petitioner’s absence
- 30% were dismissed without prejudice due to a request by the Petitioner
- 8% were dismissed without prejudice for other reasons
- 6% were dismissed without prejudice because service was unsuccessful
- 2% were dismissed with prejudice after an absence by the Petitioner
- 3% were dismissed for other reasons
Of the Continued Cases that CourtWatch volunteers observed:
- 43% were granted to allow the Petitioner additional time to serve Respondent
- 28% were granted for Other Reasons
- 13% were granted at the petitioner’s request
- 14% were granted trailing a criminal case, setting the matter aside until Criminal charges against the Respondent in the same matter were settled
- 2% were granted without a reason specified
- 0% was granted at the respondent’s request
- 0% was granted, in abeyance
Profiles of Civil Protection Orders seekers in DC
Civil Protection Orders (or CPOs) are an important and powerful tool for survivors in finding safety after an incident of domestic violence, and also a critically important way to hold offenders legally accountable for their actions. Through a CPO request, a survivor can present his or her story to the Court and seek a number of different kinds of relief—stay-away orders, no-contact orders, temporary custody of children, and mandatory counseling intervention for the alleged abuser—among others.
Through DC SAFE’s CourtWatch Project, trained advocates and volunteers observe CPO hearings at the DC Superior Court to attempt to better understand the experience of survivors as they navigate this system, and provide valuable feedback to the Court and to community providers on whether or not the processes involved in seeking and obtaining a CPO are effective at serving survivors in need, and learning more about who those survivors are.
In this post, we’ll report back on the simple demographics of CPO Petitioners (those requesting an order) and Respondents (the party who’s being filed against). It’s important to note that simply because a Petitioner files a request for a CPO does not mean that the Petitioner is always necessarily the abused party—though as we will see in later posts, the Court overwhelmingly found Petitioners to have grounds and to have demonstrated their abuse through a preponderance of evidence. However, in a later post, we’ll dig deeper into how the demographics of the parties was occasionally associated with different case outcomes and the experience of Judicial behaviors.
For now, this is a snapshot of who was before the Court in 2014.
NOTE: The judgement of a Petitioner or Respondent’s identity was made based on the perception of the observer. While this absolutely asks observers to make assumptions that would be artificial or inappropriate in other contexts, we structure the observation this way to best approximate how a party might be perceived, rather than how they identify themselves. The only exception to this is in cases where a party verbally disclosed an identity other than the perceived or assumed identity while in Court. In such cases, the party was recorded with the identifiers they disclosed.
Of all Petitioners for whom DC SAFE observed recorded a perceived race/ethnicity:
- 85% were Black;
- 7% were Hispanic;
- 6% were White;
- 1% were Asian;
- 1% were not identified within any of the aforementioned categories.
Of the Petitioners for whom DC SAFE recorded a perceived gender:
- 79% were female-identified (n673);
- 21% were male-identified (n177).
Of the Petitioners for whom DC SAFE recorded a perceived age group:
- 17% were 25 years or younger;
- 58% were between 26 and 39 years old;
- 15% were between 40 and 50 years old;
- 10% were 51 years or older.
Of the Respondents for whom DC SAFE recorded a perceived race/ethnicity:
- 81% were identified as Black;
- 8% were identified as Hispanic;
- 7% were identified as White;
- 2% were identified as Asian;
- 2% were not identified within any of the aforementioned categories.
Of the Respondents for whom DC SAFE volunteers recorded a gender:
- 72% were male-identified;
- 28% were female-identified.
Of the Respondents for whom DC SAFE volunteers recorded an age:
- 12% were 25 and younger
- 60% were between 26 and 39 years old;
- 18% were between 40 and 50 years of age;
- 10% were 51 years and older.
New initiative will-use technology to aid court observation
We are pleased to announce that this fall, DC SAFE is implementing a new electronic data capture program at the D.C. Superior Court, Domestic Violence Unit. DC SAFE has long partnered with the DC Superior Court, allowing volunteers and advocates to record key data on access to justice for domestic violence survivors in Civil Protection Order proceedings, including demographic data on parties, judicial behaviors, and case outcomes.
Despite successful reports and blog posts from in recent years, DC SAFE staff and our institutional supporters recognized the necessity of an efficient data recording system to enable us to analyze our data quickly, and to ultimately publish fresh data that reflect the current practices of judges and the experience of Petitioners and Respondents at Court. By using electronic data recording and automated data analysis on Court-approved tablets, DC SAFE and CourtWatch hope that this process will help us to identify meaningful features of the justice system, and be more immediately responsive to the trends we uncover.
Look for upcoming posts on CourtWatch observations in the most recent year:
Over the next month, DC SAFE will share our recent findings from Civil Protection Order proceeding data and preliminary analyses.
You can look forward to reading about:
Demographics of Civil Protection Order Litigants
An Overview of the Civil Protection Order Process and Recently Observed Outcomes
Relationship Between Case Outcomes and Demographics
Factors in Judicial Behavior
Relationship Between Judicial Behaviors and Litigant Demographics
Legal Representation and Case Outcomes
Looking for a Volunteer Opportunity?
Or how about an opportunity to learn about the D.C. Courts and/or domestic violence within the legal system?
We invite you to join our growing team of DC Safe CourtWatch volunteers who observe Civil Protection Order proceedings at the D.C. Superior Court, CPO session! Our new recording program makes it easier than ever to contribute to our work, which ensures that victims of Domestic Violence have equal access to a clear, fair and consistent judicial process that prioritizes victim safety and offender accountability.
All volunteers must participate in a specialized training session, and will be required to sign authorized use agreements before accessing the Court or observation technology.
Please see the volunteer page for more information.