Legal Resources for Victims of Domestic Violence
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Get help to press charges, obtain a restraining order, and leave
If you suspect that your Internet activities may be monitored by your abuser, please take safety precautions. Check the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s recommendations for ensuring privacy and safety while using your electronic devices.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. If you have experienced or are currently experiencing intimate partner violence, there are national and state resources available to help you leave your partner, file for a restraining order, or press charges against your abuser. Some lawyers represent abuse victims free of charge (called pro bono representation).
Safety while leaving an abuser
Leaving an abuser is often a terrifying experience, and it can be dangerous as well. Statistically, the most dangerous time for a victim is when she is leaving her abuser. If you are in the process of leaving (or have recently left) an abusive relationship, it is incredibly important to surround yourself and your children with friends, family, and as many community resources as possible.
Gavin de Becker, a best-selling author and security expert, has developed a free online tool—the MOSAIC threat assessment system—to help victims of abuse measure the threat levels of their abusers. This tool, famous in the domestic-violence community, has helped many women gauge their own safety risks and develop the appropriate safety precautions before, during, and after leaving their abuser.
Leaving with children
If you intend to leave with your children, it is especially important to understand the specific laws in your state. If you are not in immediate danger, it is a good idea to consult a local domestic-violence organization or a lawyer before leaving with your children. If a court suspects that you have unfairly withheld your child from the other parent, you could face penalties or legal backlash. A consultation with an attorney will help you understand your rights, the rights of your children, and the rights of the other parent, and how to document the abuse you have experienced for your future custody case.
If you are in need of legal advice or representation, there are national and local resources that may be able to help you. Because most of the laws guiding divorce, separation, custody, and restraining orders are governed by state laws, it’s always best to find an advocate who is familiar with your state’s specific laws.
Many victims of domestic violence are also victims of financial abuse. If your partner takes your earnings, refuses to give you access to bank accounts, or monitors your spending as though you were a child, you are experiencing financial abuse. Victims of financial abuse often lack the monetary resources to be able to hire an attorney. In such cases, there are low-income options, including legal aid and other programs that advocate for women who have experienced abuse.
Here is a list of resources—some catering to specific populations or states—that might be helpful:
WomensLaw.org. This is an incredibly comprehensive resource and offers a wealth of information for victims leaving abusive relationships. It provides safety tips for leaving an abuser and general information about abuse, as well as legal and nonprofit resources in each state. It also provides links to downloadable court forms for each state and tips on preparing for court.
Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project. Based in Washington, DC, this organization considers cases from any state. It offers pro bono representation for domestic-violence survivors who are appealing against abusers or defending an appeal.
Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC). The center offers legal assistance for survivors of sexual assault in Multnomah and Washington counties in Oregon and throughout Massachusetts. The VRLC makes every attempt to provide services to underrepresented populations, including youth, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, immigrants, residents of rural communities, and low-income victims of domestic violence.
Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP). This nonprofit provides representation to California victims of domestic violence in certain cases that are likely to end in outcomes that “advance the interests of domestic-violence victims throughout California.” For domestic-violence victims who are pro se (representing themselves through the court system), FVAP may offer additional assistance and self-help information.
Southwest Center for Law and Policy. The center provides legal education, training, and technical assistance to organizations and lawyers working with and representing tribal community members. You can contact the center for information and resource referrals.
Domestic Violence Appellate Representation Project. Through the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), this nonprofit offers representation for New York City residents who are victims of domestic violence and who have been denied justice in lower-level courts. These victims must often seek justice in the form of appeals.
The Northwest Network. For LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence in the Northwest, this organization offers training, support, and connections to resources for victims of same-sex relationship abuse.
Legal aid offices. These offices throughout the United States provide free or low-cost representation for low-income people navigating court cases. Legal aid programs differ by state, and some offices focus on specific legal issues, such as housing or domestic violence.
ESME’s confidential community of Sisters will help you connect with other women facing similar circumstances and challenges.
Debbie Weingarten is a freelance writer in Tucson, Arizona, and a Solo Mom to two little boys—ages three and one. Her work has appeared in Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments, The Manifest-Station, Paste magazine, Rainbow Rumpus, Edible Baja Arizona, and others. Her fiction has placed in the Glimmer Train Press Very Short Fiction contest and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
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