Domestic Violence Project Assists Nearly 8,500 Clients Annually
Yet, that statistic doesn’t reveal the full story, as domestic violence crosses all age, economic, and gender lines.
Last year alone, LACBA’s Domestic Violence Project assisted nearly 8,500 abused clients. Volunteers interview clients and help them complete legal documents to obtain restraining orders, a necessary first step in handling domestic violence situations. In addition to legal assistance with restraining orders, the project provides services to clients who return with follow-up questions concerning their existing orders or requests for extensions of their orders. The project also prepares victims for their hearings, assists them with interaction with local law enforcement, and provides them with contacts to local shelters for safety. All services are provided in English and Spanish.
The current economic climate and its accompanying frustrations and despair have exacerbated domestic violence situations. Generally, the project’s clients are from low-income families and subsequently may be experiencing more stress in these disruptive financial times.
As staggering as the numbers sound, however, LACBA volunteers do make a difference every day. During a three-hour shift, a single volunteer can help as many as three victims seek protection from their abusers. Collectively, volunteers donated 5,200 hours of their time providing pro bono assistance last year.
While clients can find the process overwhelming and confusing, sitting down one-on-one with a real person who can help them directly is priceless.
"Volunteers are more than the backbone of the program, they are the very reason that the program works,” says Deborah Kelly, Domestic Violence Project Directing Attorney. “The generous gift of pro bono hours to LACBA's Domestic Violence Project enables the project to provide legal services to thousands of victims each year."
The project, which began in 1986, has expanded its hours over the years at two superior court locations, downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. The project is staffed by a directing attorney, a project coordinator/paralegal, and a paralegal. A primary source of funding for the project comes from the Los Angeles County Bar Foundation.
The project also works with other agencies serving the community, including law enforcement personnel, to better prepare them for dealing with victims of domestic violence and their restraining orders, including emergency protective orders.
Home should be safe, not terrifying. Nationally, an estimated 11 percent of all people experience violence within their home. Domestic violence follows a pattern of assault and coercion—often including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion—that adults and adolescents impose against their intimate partners.
Here is Maria C’s story. “[My husband] said, ‘I’ll smash your face so bad that even your mother won’t recognize you.’ I was afraid for a long time. I’d seen him be violent on the streets, and I believed his threats. He would push me, shove me….Once, when I said I was going to call the cops, he said, ‘Go ahead. Call them. I’m not afraid of the police. But if I get arrested, one of these days, I’ll get out. I’ll make sure you’re never able to call the cops again.’...That’s why I came to [the project] for help.”
Volunteers find opportunities to develop their skills. Newer attorneys volunteer along side experienced ones—gaining expertise in an area of family law and developing skills that can be applied to their practice—while at the same time helping victims and their families gain protection against their abusers.
No previous experience in this area of law is necessary. Volunteers attend one evening training session, which provides 3 hours of CLE credit. The next training takes place on September 29.
Attorneys volunteer for two 3-hour commitments per month for six months. Volunteer hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to noon or 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.
No ongoing representation is required, although volunteers have the option of representing their client at the time of the hearing.
The project is a joint collaboration with the Los Angeles Superior Court, which provides courtroom space for the project’s locations in the Central and Pasadena Districts, parking for volunteers, and assistance with the volunteer trainings.
“At the Domestic Violence Project, access to justice is more than a legal concept. It's real. We assist real people with life-threatening problems, and the rewards are many,” says Kelly. “The victim is empowered, his or her children receive protection, and the community benefits by the effort.”
1 Peace Over Violence (formerly the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women Los Angeles).
2 Information collated from reports by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, Peace Over Violence (Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women), Surgeon General Reports, the U.S.D.A., and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.