West Virginia courts unveil safety, access project

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Supreme Court has launched a new program that uses technology to promote safety and access in cases involving sexual assault and domestic violence.

Chief Justice Evan Jenkins announced the initiative Wednesday in Cabell County Family Court in Huntington, The Herald-Dispatch reported. It allows victims in domestic violence and sexual assault cases to apply for protection petitions and appear for court hearings from a remote location.

Cabell County is the first to pilot the new system, which will eventually expand to other counties across West Virginia, the court said. Kanawha, Berkeley and Ohio counties are expected to implement similar programs soon.

The project was developed because of judicial access and safety concerns raised by domestic violence and sexual assault victims’ advocates, Jenkins said. The only option before the program was for victims to appear in person at the courthouse.

Contact Rape Crisis Center Director Sharon Pressman said the program will be impactful.

“This project means so much for victims to get justice,” she said. “Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, but any time we can make it easier on them, that’s what our job is.”

Jenkins said more than 500 protection petitions have been filed in Cabell County this year.