Turning the Tide Against Domestic Violence Through Legal Assistance - Human Options

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Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States each year.[1] Female survivors of domestic violence lose almost 13.6 million days of productivity due to violence every year—that is over eight million days of paid work, or 32,000 full time jobs[2]. Domestic violence is a complex issue, and at Human Options we have always worked to offer a holistic range of services to our clients to encompass that complexity. Among those is our Legal Advocacy Program, which provides legal information and resources to survivors of domestic violence. A new article by Fox News is one of several recent publications indicating that providing legal services to survivors is the single most effective method of breaking the cycle of domestic violence. Legal assistance makes it easier for survivors to obtain protective orders against their batterers, but the vast majority of domestic violence survivors go through the legal process on their own. The National Network to End Domestic Violence reports that only half of all domestic violence agencies are able to provide legal advocates to accompany survivors to court, and only eleven percent are able to offer representation to their clients. Legal cases involving domestic violence can be complex, often merging issues from family, immigration, and criminal law. Many times, survivors must face their abusers in court when they are seeking such legal relief—often a confusing and an emotionally daunting task when support is not available.

At Human Options, we have long understood the importance of providing clients with the legal resources they need to keep themselves and their families safe. We hired our first legal advocate in 1987. Today, we have a full time legal advocacy department and offer legal advocacy services at ten different locations throughout Orange County. Our program focuses on educating survivors of domestic violence on their rights, as well as the legal options available to them as they move away from the violence in their lives, to begin and sustain the healing process. The legal advocacy program builds upon, and works in concert with, our residential, counseling, and case management services to support clients in their journey towards safety. While ultimately a restraining order will not stop a bullet, the process of learning about, applying for, and obtaining a restraining order can be an empowering, and  important, first step towards a lifetime of safety for a survivor.

Last year we helped 356 clients learn more about the legal options and resources available to them through direct client service, legal clinics, and linkage to pro bono representation. Whether it be assistance with a Restraining Order, court accompaniment, information about immigration relief available to domestic violence survivors, or safety planning, our team of legal advocates are trained to provide trauma informed, client-centered advocacy services to assist clients in breaking free from the cycle of violence. Human Options has had a longstanding relationship with several key partners who provide pro bono legal services. Latham and Watkins represents clients in Restraining Order matters as well as the U-Visa Application Process. The Orange County Jewish Bar Association has for years provided a monthly legal clinic at the Human Options Emergency Shelter to assist clients with urgent family law matters. Melinda Gomez of Hughes and Hughes has provided similar services for our outpatient clients at our Minnie Street Family Resource Center for over two years. More recently, we have on-boarded three new immigration attorneys who volunteer their time at immigration clinics at our Center for Children and Families and Family Resource Centers. We continue to grow and develop these and other partnerships enabling us to link a higher percentage of our clients with professional legal assistance through clinics and direct representation. The Orange County Bar Association generously contributed to this programmatic growth through their Charitable Fund Grant Program in 2015 and 2016.

Act

Join us by volunteering your legal services. Each month we offer at least nine legal clinics and workshops throughout Orange County to provide clients with assistance in Family Law matters, Immigration Law, and Restraining Orders. Our volunteer attorneys play a critical role in supporting clients by providing the free legal advice they so desperately need.  To learn more about volunteering opportunities, please contact Sara Behmerwohld at 949-737-5242 ext. 105 or visit our website at www.humanoptions.org.

[1] (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Programs National Institute of Justice, 2000).

[2] (Rosenberg & Grab, 2015).

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