A team of researchers from the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) and the Gillings School of Global Public Health has been awarded competitive funding by the Office for Violence Against Women to evaluate the impact of electronic filing for Domestic Violence Protective Orders (DVPOs) in North Carolina.

Anyone who is experiencing domestic violence has the right to request a DVPO. DVPOs are civil restraining orders which prohibit an individual from contacting, harming, or harassing their current or former intimate partner. Emerging research suggests that DVPOs are effective at preventing violence at keeping survivors safe. Implementing them thoroughly and appropriately is essential to ensuring their efficacy.

Beginning in 2013, the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) began introducing electronic filing (“e-filing”) for DVPOs–an innovative strategy to make the DVPO process more streamlined, efficient, and accessible to survivors of domestic violence. E-filing allows for a survivor to file DVPO paperwork with the assistance of a domestic violence advocate through a web-based, state computer portal. The survivor can then appear over web video to speak with a clerk and appear before a judge without having to travel to the courthouse in-person. Once a DVPO is e-filed, the petition flows electronically to the clerk and the judge for action. Next, the documents flow electronically to law enforcement and are available for immediate service and/or enforcement. E-filing is not only quick, it creates a safe, supportive environment where the survivor can receive additional information about the DVPO process and DV-related services in the community from a trained DV advocate.

E-filling for DVPOs is a cutting-edge innovation that no other states have adopted on a statewide scale in the way that North Carolina has. According to the North Carolina Domestic Violence Specialist for the AOC, Stephanie Satkowiak, “Modernization of our court system includes increasing reliance on electronic processes, which can not only improve the efficiency of the court system, it can also promote life-saving practices.” The NC AOC has successfully launched e-filing in 10 counties, with more counties scheduled to come online in 2020.

The research team is led by Beth Moracco, PhD and includes Shabbar Ranapurwala, Phd; Julie Kafka, MPH; Erika Redding MSPH; and Agnieszka McCort, MA. The research team will conduct a rigorous process and outcome evaluation of e-filing. The evaluation is a mixed methods study. Primary data which will be collected through surveys and interviews with key courtroom personnel, law enforcement representatives, DV advocates, and DV survivors. The AOC already collects data on DVPO outcomes, the timing for DVPO hearings, and the timing for DVPO service, which will be leveraged in our secondary data analysis.

E-filing has the potential to improve the DVPO process and the increase safety for many North Carolinians who are impacted by domestic violence. With this new evaluation project, the research team will document how e-filing operates to improve outcomes, and to identify what types of e-filing implementation approaches work best.

Sources available upon request.