It is Not ‘OK’
Local attorneys volunteer their time to help domestic-abuse victims become survivors
Published in 2016 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine on June 30, 2016
Even after years of abuse, victims of domestic violence often find that the toughest decision is whether to escape.
“The most dangerous situation is when a person tries to leave the abuser,” explains Lisa DuFour, a partner at Integrative Family Law in Seattle who has provided reduced-fee services to victims in severe cases.
Once they’ve made the decision to get out, victims have to navigate an overwhelming legal system. Attorneys like DuFour provide free or low-cost legal assistance to help survivors move on with their lives.
“Domestic-violence survivors need to know that someone will listen to them, believe them and stand up with them to say domestic violence will no longer be tolerated,” says DuFour. “The legal system has to acknowledge and support the victims so that we can, together, respond appropriately and change the dynamics of this pervasive problem. What MADD has done to publicize and change the societal perceptions of drunk driving, attorneys need to do for domestic violence.”
DuFour has been assisting victims for more than two decades. A few years ago, one client was forced by her husband to work as a prostitute. Influenced by DuFour’s advocacy, the judge prohibited the man from any future contact with his children—a highly unusual move, notes DuFour, a former family-support prosecutor.
“Everyone deserves access to justice,” says Joanna Plichta Boisen, pro bono partner at Foster Pepper, “but in the domestic-violence space, it is even more crucial because there is a safety component. You are talking about someone’s life.”
In 2008, Boisen encouraged her firm to make the Domestic Violence Advocacy Project its flagship project. The program provides free representation to victims seeking domestic-violence protection orders (DVPOs). In 2014, she also helped create the Domestic Violence Impact Project, run as a partnership by Foster Pepper, Davis Wright Tremaine, and Perkins Coie. Its volunteer attorneys help survivors draft statements for their protection orders. Boisen offers an annual training session for volunteers.
Domestic-violence victims who represent themselves in court face an uphill battle. “A lot of women have suffered serious trauma, or are not sophisticated in crafting their legal arguments, or there is a language barrier,” notes Boisen. Meanwhile, the abuser—who ordinarily controls the purse strings—often has a lawyer, tilting the playing field.
Without assistance, many survivors have difficulty gathering evidence. Boisen recalls a client whose abuser always struck her where marks would be hidden by her hair. “This went on for so many years, she had brain trauma and couldn’t explain herself in court,” recalls Boisen. Another survivor was afraid to take legal action because she did not realize a DVPO would also protect her children, who had not been abused but had witnessed abuse. “A lot of women care more about the kids than themselves,” says Boisen, and that often causes them to improperly focus on parenting issues on their DVPO materials.
Loretta S. Story, a family law attorney with Story Law/Eastside Collaborative Law Center in Bellevue, has represented survivors since the mid-’90s. She says legal support has come a long way. “In those days, there were not really any nonprofits focusing on civil legal aid to victims,” she recalls. “There were shelters, and they protected you for a while, and that was it.”
Story, who has a background in psychology and social work, attended law school with the goal of helping domestic-violence victims. A longtime Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP) volunteer and former board member, she was instrumental in creating ELAP’s Domestic Violence Legal Project, now in its second year of providing legal services to low-income residents. She serves on the advisory board for ELAP’s Family Law Fellowship, a program that trains new attorneys in family law matters including domestic violence.
“A victim usually thinks nobody will believe him or her,” says DuFour, who also serves as a pro tem family law court commissioner. “They have lost so much self-confidence, and are cut off from family and support systems. … We can change the societal viewpoint of domestic violence and make it a public crime so that others will also say, ‘That is not OK.’”
A court order is just one step toward a new life. Survivors also need counseling; and possibly new housing, confidential addresses, new jobs for themselves and schools for their children.
“But the main thing,” DuFour says, “is helping them realize that they are going to be OK and make it through.”
HOW TO HELP—IN KING COUNTY
Eastside Legal Assistance Program (ELAP)
Legal aid services for domestic-violence victims throughout King County; no-cost clinics staffed by volunteer attorneys. Free training.
Lou Manuta: 425-747-7274 [email protected] elap.org
Northwest Justice Project (NJP)
Assistance for low-income residents in cases including domestic violence. Volunteer attorneys handle telephone intake line.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP)
Legal services for immigrants, including representation for survivors of domestic violence. Trains volunteer attorneys.
Jordan Wasserman: 206-957-8632 [email protected] nwirp.org
King County Bar Association - Family Law Mentor Program (KCBA – FLMP)
Represents parents when children are at risk due to domestic violence, child abuse, neglect or substance-abuse issues. Training sessions.
Kim Todaro: 206-267-7020 [email protected] kcba.org/pbs/familylaw.aspx
Domestic Violence Impact Project (DVIP) and Domestic Violence Advocacy Project (DVAP)
Assistance obtaining protection orders. Court opportunities for volunteers. Mentorship, training and materials available.
Joanna Plichta Boisen: 206-447-5144 [email protected]
Impact litigation, legislative advocacy and legal rights education for Northwest women and girls. Volunteer attorneys needed.
Chloë Phalan: 206-682-9552 [email protected] legalvoice.org
Advocacy, legal support and shelter for domestic-violence victims. Volunteer attorneys staff Wednesday night legal clinic. Training offered.
Erin Pankow: 206-926-3016 [email protected] newbegin.org
Help victims and their children separate safely from abusers. Monthly clinics for victims. Training offered.
Maria Williams: 425-562-8840 x363 [email protected] lifewire.org
Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN)
Community- and shelter-based services, including legal support, for survivors and their children. Training provided for volunteer attorneys.
425-656-4305 [email protected] dawnonline.org