Liesel Schapira '18
Legal process is of vital importance for victims of domestic violence. Without a court order of protection (known as a restraining order in some states), victims are often unable to leave their abusers, and a cycle of violence can continue indefinitely. Because victims depend on confusing and lengthy state court processes to escape these dire situations, lawyers are instrumental to their success.
Over the summer I saw firsthand the crucial role of lawyers as advocates for victims of domestic violence. As part of the Courtroom Advocates Program (CAP) in New York, I accompanied a young woman to Bronx Family Court as she filed for an order of protection from her ex-boyfriend. She shared a child and a home with her ex, who refused to move out after their relationship ended. He was both physically and verbally abusive to her.
For this woman, and many others, the only way to move on or to end an abusive cycle is through the court system. She came in to Bronx Family Court because after the most recent incident of physical violence against her, she feared for her safety. She was afraid to return to the shared home, but had to go back to get clothes and supplies for herself and her son. She had no idea the process would take an entire day—nor did she realize that she would need to secure childcare for her adjournment date four days later.
As an advocate, I was trained by CAP’s attorneys—who regularly worked with victims of domestic violence. I was armed with a manual, written by lawyers, describing the process of obtaining an order of protection in this particular court and how to craft a narrative describing the abuse. I was instructed that filing for an order of protection could take all day, and it would require a subsequent court visit a few days later. I also had a list of nearby shelters and non-profit organizations that could loan her clothing and supplies while she was sleeping out in order to stay away from her abuser. We were successful in obtaining a temporary order of protection, but that is only the very first step.
Lawyers are crucial for victims of domestic violence because it is rare that a domestic violence case only involves getting an order of protection. Additional legal questions usually arise, such as the initiation of divorce proceedings, child support or custody issues, immigration issues, and even property issues. Allegations of physical abuse can also lead to a criminal trial. Aside from knowledge of the law however, lawyers are uniquely capable of supporting and lending their voice to victims who proceed in court. Domestic violence victims often stay in abusive relationships because they feel they are without resources—financial or otherwise, to escape. Lawyers educate victims about the legal process so that victims can leave bad situations, and move on with their lives. Lawyers stand by and lend their voice to victims in court, which can ease the re-traumatization that occurs when a victim of domestic violence has to face her abuser and recount upsetting instances of past abuse.
As we consider our future legal careers, including potential pro bono projects or volunteer activities, please keep in mind the enormous impact we can have by assisting victims of domestic violence.
If you are interested in getting involved on grounds this month:
October 16-20: Stop by the Domestic Violence Project’s table in Hunton & Williams all week where you can purchase t-shirts, thermoses, and baked goods to raise money for Charlottesville’s Shelter for Help in Emergency, an organization dedicated to assisting local women, men, and children who have been impacted by domestic violence.
October 26 at 1:15pm: Attend a presentation on forced marriage, immigration, and domestic violence (Lunch provided; co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the Immigration Law Program).
October 27 at 12pm: Attend a presentation by staff from the University’s Title IX and Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights Office on processes and protections available for students in instances of sex or gender-based harassment or violence. (Lunch provided to those who RSVP to Cory at firstname.lastname@example.org).
November 4: Run (or walk) in a 5K on the Downtown Mall; proceeds will benefit Charlottesville’s Shelter for Help in Case of Emergency (the 5K is on Saturday, November 4th; sign up here: http://www.shelterforhelpinemergency.org/5k-runwalk-shelter/).
Key Facts from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner
Domestic violence is prevalent in every community, and affects all people regardless of age, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or nationality
Domestic violence can include physical violence, sexual violence, threats, stalking, economic abuse, and emotional/psychological abuse
To sign up for any of the above events, or to join the Domestic Violence Project e-mail list, please contact Cory Sagduyu at email@example.com.