Domestic Violence Victims Can Finally Request Orders of Protection Online


St. Louis County now has the only judicial circuit in Missouri allowing victims to file for orders of protection online. - VIA GOOGLE STREETVIEW
  • St. Louis County now has the only judicial circuit in Missouri allowing victims to file for orders of protection online.

In another entry on the list of things that could have been done way before COVID-19, victims of domestic abuse can now file for orders of protection online in St. Louis County.

The burden of the old paper filing system has long been a complaint for victims, who had to show up during business hours at the county courthouse in Clayton to fill out the forms in the Adult Abuse Office, and then wait for a judge's approval. Often, that meant trying to arrange childcare, leave work or even slip out the house without arousing an abuser's suspicion. And it might require more than one in-person visit.

But now that wide swaths of the world are stuck at home, all types of services and functions are being reconsidered. People with disabilities who've been told for years that online accommodations for classes were impossible are finding that universities are quite capable of handling it now that the rest of the student population has been forced off campuses, too. Work-from-home advocates have seen the sudden rise of the video conference meeting. And a number of inmates previously kept in jail for months solely because they couldn't afford bail have been released in hopes of heading off outbreaks.

It's taken a global pandemic and stay-at-home orders to move the form filing online for victims in St. Louis County, but it's more urgent now than ever as more people are isolated at home with their abusers. Numbers are still coming in, but domestic abuse appears to be on the rise across the country.

“We are concerned about an increase in domestic violence with the stay-at-home order currently in place,” St. Louis County Circuit Judge Jason Dodson said in a statement. “We want to ensure people have access to orders of protection and the remedies they provide without having to leave their homes.”

St. Louis County is ahead of the rest of the state in offering an option to file online. No other judicial circuit in Missouri allows it, and there are few in the country, according to a news release from the court.

For now, the forms can only be filed during business hours — 8a.m. to 4p.m., Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday — but the county is expected to move to anytime filing. There will be a judge on call at all hours to review applications.

Victims will also have an opportunity to attend hearings on orders of protection by video conference.

"We developed this innovation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect not only our staff, but victims of domestic violence in St. Louis County from potential exposure to the virus,” St. Louis County Judge Amanda McNelley said in statement. “But this will have a positive impact on the way our courts address domestic violence and assist the victims of domestic violence in the long term.”

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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