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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

by Suzanne Tomatore October 14, 2019

Suzanne Tomatore is the Co-Director of the Justice Center’s Immigrant Justice Project and Deputy Director of the Justice Center.

Domestic violence can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background, and is pervasive – one in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner[1]. It is often perpetrated by an intimate partner or a relative who is controlling and exerts power by instilling fear, and can encompass a range of behaviors including using immigration status as a threat, stalking, or other coercive actions. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month and also the theme of this year’s ABA’s Pro Bono week.  At the City Bar Justice Center, we see the far-reaching effects of domestic violence in our clients’ lives and help them to access their legal rights.

For almost two decades, I have been the Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project. Many of the immigrant women and children I have served during this time were fleeing abusive situations. For someone experiencing domestic violence, it can be very difficult to leave an abusive relationship when there are young children, limited finances, a fear of homelessness, or religious or cultural factors involved. Victims of domestic violence often hope that the abuser will change. And yet, when someone does decide to leave a relationship with domestic violence, this period carries the greatest threat to their safety and is when most intimate partner murders occur[2].

The experience of one of my past clients, Esperanza, encapsulates many of the challenges immigrant women face when fleeing domestic violence situations. Esperanza worked with a pro bono attorney to help her gain lawful status in the U.S. under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). There are immigration remedies available under the VAWA which can help someone married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is abusive to them. U nonimmigrant status or a “U visa” is another remedy that may be available for a survivor of domestic violence who cooperates with law enforcement. Esperanza was married to a U.S. citizen who was abusive to her and their 6 children for many years. Under VAWA, she was granted employment authorization a few years ago. Since then, she has improved her English and literacy, gotten her GED, and taken college courses. She also volunteers in her children’s school while working full time. Her story is a very inspiring one and relays the hope and transformative power of relief for victims of domestic violence.

Attorneys are key resources for friends, family members, neighbors and clients who may be in need of help. Domestic violence issues may surface in any case that an attorney handles. You can help your client have a plan to leave an abusive situation by providing guidance and referrals to domestic violence organizations. Survivors of domestic violence can seek assistance at the Family Justice Centers, which are located in every borough in New York City and are open Monday-Friday from 9 AM-5PM. A survivor can walk in and speak with a police officer, social worker, or attorney all in one location. They can learn more about their options to better protect themselves and their families. A survivor can also call 311 to connect to a domestic violence hotline that can provide referrals for counseling and help in finding a shelter and other resources, including legal assistance. They can also call 911 if they are imminent danger and need police assistance. The City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Hotline (212-626-7383) is useful for low-income New Yorkers to get information and advice on civil legal matters such as divorce, child custody, or child support.

As attorneys, we can communicate a message of hope if someone is seeking assistance as a domestic violence survivor and provide key resources for to help them seek out expert advice. Consider attending a pro bono training or event on domestic violence in October where you can learn more and help make a difference.

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/nisvs_report2010-a.pdf

[2] https://ncadv.org/why-do-victims-stay


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