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Innovative Cross-Court Project Offers Trauma Informed Approach to Justice-Involved Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault Victims

VASE project

Superior Court Judge Jurden (second row, far right), Commissioner Mary McDonough (second row, second on right) and others involved in the VASE project visiting the Hazel D. Plant Women’s Treatment Facility.

A project to offer a trauma-informed approach for justice-involved victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, the Victim Advocacy and Safety Enhancement Project (VASE), recently opened in New Castle County Superior Court Mental Health Court and the Court of Common Pleas Trauma Informed Probation Court (TIP Court). Superior Court Mental Health Court, led by Judge Jan Jurden and her staff, welcomed participants into the program in late August 2013. Commissioner McDonough and the TIP Court opened their doors to VASE in November, 2013.

The project, funded by a 24-month grant awarded to the Administrative Office of the Courts by the Office on Violence against Women (OVW), is the first cross-court initiative of its kind. VASE creates a “specialized track” within Superior Court Mental Health Court and the Court of Common Pleas TIP Court to identify justice-involved victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking, and to provide those victims with tools to end the cycle of violence and abuse, address the root cause of the problem that may have led to their involvement with the criminal justice system, and help reduce recidivism.

As part of OVW’s nationwide efforts to educate the judiciary and other court and community stakeholders on the needs of justice-involved victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, VASE hosted a one-day Symposium on Trauma and the Justice System at the New Castle County Courthouse on November 1, 2013.

VASE panel

Pictured left to right, Kate Brookins, Project Coordinator, VASE Project; Valerie Marek, Executive Director, Survivors of Abuse in Recovery, Inc. (SOAR); Cathy Johnson, Assistant Public Defender, Office of the Public Defender; Krista Griffith, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice; Honorable Mary McDonough, Commissioner, Court of Common Pleas.

The Symposium included presentations on using a trauma-informed approach in the justice system, by Dr. Janine D’Anniballe, a counseling psychologist and national trainer from Boulder, Colorado, and on the sociological inter-connection of offenses and trauma, by Dr. Susan Miller, a Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. In addition, attorneys from the National Judicial Education Program discussed the intersection of sexual assault and domestic violence, including how the descriptive language used related to domestic violence and sexual assault shapes our response to the issue. Finally, Judge Jurden moderated a panel discussion among VASE project partners to explore how the VASE project impacts participating litigants.

For more information, contact robin.freeman@state.de.us

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