Progress

The past few weeks have been a crazy combination of new adventures and blasts from the past as I have explored new frontiers in my project in South Africa and have began to prepare for my return to the United States.

With the help of my family I am trying to find an apartment in the Newark, New Jersey area where I will begin a new chapter of my life.

I accepted a full scholarship to Seton Hall Law School and I am excited to begin this new journey. With such a strong program and opportunities to explore my interests in domestic violence, child protection, and family law, I am confident that Seton Hall Law school will allow me to integrate my fellowship experiences with continued opportunities to learn and grow as an advocate and person.

I have also increased my contact with friends and family as I prepare to reintegrate into my life at home.

During this process, I have been reminded of many of the challenges that await me at home as I continue to examine my past and current relationships.

I have established a sense of closure with several past relationships as I was able to effectively and honestly communicate my thoughts and feelings to myself, friends, family, and previous partners.

I have also taken chances, reconnected with people from my past, and I am excited to explore these new and revitalized friendships and relationships.

I also continuing to enjoy my time exploring Cape Town with my friends and family who I have met throughout my journey.

I have visited new places and have continued to be amazed by the natural beauty of South Africa.

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I was inspired by my friend Ruth who completed her tenth Two Oceans half marathon.

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I learned how to surf.

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And I have spent quality time with my host family during Easter and on the weekends where my incredible host mother has taught me how to cook a variety of dishes and styles including a South African braai (barbecue).

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I have also taken chances and risks with my project!

After spending a few days with a firm of family attorneys, I decided to just show up to court and try to establish contacts there.

Thanks to the support and assistance of incredible court staff and Magistrates, I have spent my past week and will continue to spend time in Children’s Court, Domestic Violence Protection Order Court, and Domestic Violence Criminal Court.

While shadowing a Magistrate in Domestic Violence Protection Order Court I have learned so much about the domestic violence legal system, policies, laws and social welfare system.

I find it interesting that the Cape Town domestic violence laws and legal system are very similarly structured as the laws and system in the jurisdiction where I was a domestic violence court advocate in Pennsylvania.

There were also some interesting differences.

I was surprised to see that even though the Magistrate has the option to have all trials in a courtroom, she is comfortable having all court proceedings take place in her own office and does not have the assistance of a clerk nor the protection of security, sheriffs, or police. While this may raise questions and concerns of safety, I appreciated this environment and layout. After spending a few days observing the court process and seeing how the parties reacted to the process, I believe that this relaxed and informal environment allowed the Magistrate to successfully and effectively implement an experience of therapeutic and restorative justice.

Through my observations of the court process and conversations with the Magistrate and parties involved in protection order cases I have also been surprised and at times disappointed by how the laws were implemented by the courts and the police.

I was surprised to discover that protection orders here are granted without an expiration date and therefore offer protection for the rest of the applicant’s life.

I have also seen how the Magistrate can be lenient in how she makes decisions in protection order cases. I learned that as long as all parties have been appropriately and legally notified of the court proceedings, the Magistrate will easily grant an order of protection when the respondent (the alleged perpetrator of abuse) is not present in court. I was surprised how the Magistrate granted these protection orders without establishing that a protection order is needed or that abuse has occurred.

Furthermore I was disappointed to find that this court system struggled with similar challenges as the system in my jurisdiction back home where many orders are dropped or withdrawn. I was disappointed to see that there are about 50 protection order cases a day and yet up to half of the cases everyday are dismissed because the applicant does not come to court to pursue his/her protection order.

I was also extremely disappointed to hear that the police are impacting the effectiveness and success of the protection order process.

I have spoken to the Magistrate and I have heard stories from victims that suggest that the police have a troubling and inappropriate approach to domestic violence where they falsely state to protection parties that their order is outdated or has expired and where they do not make a sufficient effort to serve the court documents and enforce protection orders.

Despite these challenges and potential problems with the domestic violence court order system, I was left with a very positive opinion of the domestic violence protection court, especially with the Magistrate’s approach of therapeutic and restorative justice.

I found it refreshing that the Magistrate took the time to examine deeper issues behind many of the abuse applications. I admired her tenacity and her true investment in making a difference in the lives of the parties who are seeking help from the court.

I was very impressed by and appreciative of her involved approach in a case involving two teenagers. The young couple, their six month old child, and the teenager’s mothers entered the court room and explained their situation. Both of the teenagers were raised by single mothers with fathers who had hardly been a part of their lives, the boyfriend has been using crystal meth for the past four years, and he has been physically and emotionally abusive and controlling toward his girlfriend. The protection order application described how the boyfriend would order the girlfriend to do things for him and when she refused he would hit her and emotionally degrade her.

For about an hour the Magistrate asked all of the parties questions about their situation and offered advice and support. She explored the issues around the boyfriend’s drug addiction and the reasons why he acted toward his girlfriend in such a demanding, abusive, and controlling way. The Magistrate made powerful statements to the boyfriend about drug addiction, caring for his child and his family, respecting his beautiful girlfriend, and getting the help that he needs to overcome his drug addiction and abusive ways. The Magistrate then spoke openly and honestly to the girlfriend, talking to her about what she needs to do as a young parent and how she needs to have the strength to create a safe and healthy life for her and her child even if it means not being with her current boyfriend. I appreciated how she involved the parents in the discussion, addressed the issues affecting the abusive situation with both parties, and helped to guide and support the family in how to approach and improve their relationship.

Overall I was inspired by how the Magistrate commented on cases with a strong voice of respect and authority, offer support and additional counseling services through referrals to a non-profit organization, and lecture the parties about appropriate behaviors and how to improve their situations.

I believe that this kind of judicial approach can help parties understand and respect the judicial system and laws in a way that can help repair relationships between government institutions, the legal system, and the people. I also believe that this approach helps to inspire the parties to reflect on their own situations and receive the help that they need to address their problems and challenges.

With two more weeks in Cape Town and the opportunity to continue to explore the domestic violence courts and Children’s Courts, I am excited for all that I will continue to learn and experience.

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One comment

  1. What a well documented detailed experience. It seems like I was there….Ashley, you are amazing in all aspects of life, really inspiring what you do. Others in your situation would have partied up a storm, but you are so level headed and always wanting to learn more….thanks for your inspiration…

    Like

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