Blog Post # 6 – Adult Abuse

“Adult abuse.”  Not a phrase that you hear that often.  Certainly, we don’t hear it as often as the term “child abuse.”

I found myself in Division 37 of the St. Louis County Circuit Court recently, helping an immigration client legally change her name so that we could get her a new green card in the name that she wanted.

The adult abuse docket started at 8:30 am.  Our case was scheduled for a brief hearing at 9, after the orders of protection.

In case you don’t know, when someone petitions the Court for an order of protection against someone else, they find themselves on the “adult abuse” docket.  

When the case is first filed, a temporary restraining order is issued against the defendant.  The person seeking a long-term protective order has to have the sheriff serve a copy of the action on the defendant and then both sides have to show up to Court for a hearing.  All of these cases are placed on the adult abuse docket.

So while I waited for our case to be called, I listened to the Judge talk with some of the 39 litigants on the docket and it was pretty sad.  

It seemed as if most situations involved former lovers who now despised each other. In a number of cases, some sort of violence had occurred.  Sometimes, both sides were seeking restraining orders against each other.  The worst cases involved situations where not only had the people been lovers, and now despised each other, but children were in the middle of the dispute.

The Judge taught me as an adjunct when I was in law school.  He was extremely respectful of the litigants.  Kind, patient and helpful.  He treated everyone with dignity and respect.

I wish I could say the same of the litigants.  Not so nice.

St. Louis County provides a victims advocate coordinator.  I spoke with her for a bit.  She goes to Court every day and oversees volunteer advocates who help the victims of abuse navigate the court system.  She said the docket was large most days and that the volunteer advocates are very busy.  She pointed out that this was just one Judge out of many who handled these types of cases each week and that they all had similar dockets.

The whole experience made me sad.  People who used to have feelings (sometimes love) for each other who now hated each other so much that they couldn’t communicate, could behave well and had to go to Court for help.

Certainly, an eye-opening experience.  I know it is idealistic to think that it would be nice if we didn’t need the adult abuse docket.  I know it serves a very important purpose and that orders of protections are essential in protecting victims of abuse.  

It just wasn’t much fun hearing the tales of adult abuse.