ALBANY—On Sept. 8, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) announced a joint initiative to enhance access to legal services by victims of domestic violence.
“To increase access to justice for domestic violence victims, the Initiative will work with legal service providers, local bar associations and pro bono attorneys to educate, recruit and train additional volunteer attorneys,” said WBASNY President Jacqueline Flug.
Domestic violence is ongoing, purposeful behavior aimed at exerting power and control over one’s intimate partner and can be psychological, physical, sexual or economic in nature. It can also involve other family members. The initiative will focus on domestic violence involving people in current or former intimate relationships, whether or not they have lived together. Domestic violence victims can be of any gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity or income.
Women and men who leave abusive relationships frequently have limited resources. Many desperately need legal assistance in gaining orders of protection against their abusers and in dealing with legal issues such as housing, child custody, support and visitation, and divorce.
“High-quality civil legal assistance plays a vital role in protecting the health and well-being of victims and their children,” said NYSBA President Claire P. Gutekunst. “Despite tremendous efforts by legal services lawyers and pro bono volunteers, the need dwarfs the available resources,”
Nationally, almost 25 percent of women and 10 percent of men are estimated to have suffered sexual violence by an intimate partner; and more than 22 percent of women and 14 percent of men are estimated have been subjected to at least one act of severe physical violence in an intimate relationship, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Domestic Violence Initiative will work to raise awareness of domestic violence and offer training to pro bono and legal service attorneys; collaborate with bar associations and others in the legal community to recruit more pro bono attorneys and develop pro bono programs for underserved communities across the state; and consider and make recommendations about possible legislation to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence.
Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families in New York City, and Amy Schwartz-Wallace of Rochester, leader of Empire Justice Center’s statewide domestic violence practice, are co-chairs of the Initiative and its membership will include representatives of legal services providers, bar associations, law firm pro bono programs, the court system and law school.
WBASNY has long advocated for statewide legislation supporting victims of domestic violence and WBASNY chapters have acted locally to create pro bono programs and support not-for-profit organizations that serve domestic violence victims. NYSBA and WBASNY say they will leverage their experience and their members’ expertise to increase the services currently provided to victims and their families.