Baltimore has made it easier for victims of domestic violence to seek and receive appropriate help. The civil and criminal divisions of district court that deal with the abused and their abusers are now in one courthouse. It's a welcome recognition that battered women - the most likely abuse victims - need assistance that is timely, accessible and well-coordinated.
Domestic violence has long been taken seriously by local prosecutors and courts, but procedures were somewhat fragmented. Victims had to seek protective orders - which are supposed to keep abusers away from their victims, but also grant them visitation rights or make them provide financial support to their children - from the civil court on Fayette Street. But if a victim wanted to pursue misdemeanor assault, stalking, harassment or similar charges against a batterer, she would have to deal with the state's attorney's office or the criminal court on North Avenue. Last week, the civil court functions were moved to North Avenue, and additional experts from the House of Ruth who can direct victims to appropriate social services are also being made available there.
The state's attorney's office handles 9,000 to 10,000 domestic violence cases a year in Baltimore, but many of those victims lack transportation or time to go to different places for assistance. As a result, they might stay in an abusive relationship that could have lethal consequences. Statewide, an estimated 70 adults and children were killed (including homicides and suicides) in domestic incidents - the majority involving intimate partners - between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.
Keeping more victims off that list will require even more help and coordination from police, prosecutors, courts and others. Consolidating legal proceedings in Baltimore is a solid step in the right direction.