An excellent editorial by Martha Bergmark, Executive Director of Voices for Civil Justice: How to Reduce Domestic Violence with Legal Assistance reminds us that one of the most effective ways to reduce domestic violence is providing legal representation and legal assistance to domestic violence victims. As Ms. Bergmark tells us, a study by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University discovered that only 32% of survivors are able to get a protective order without an attorney compared to 83% of survivors represented by an attorney who are able to get one. Unfortunately, there is no legal right to an attorney when someone is subjected to domestic violence and therefore the majority of indigent domestic victims are not represented in court.
In Maryland, the Access to Justice Commission is pushing for all Marylanders to have a right to an attorney in civil matters such as custody and domestic violence, known as “Civil Gideon.” However, the estimate is that $106.6 million would be needed to fund such representation of low-income Maryland residents and there are no funds in our State budget to do so.
Legal Representation Can Help With Abuse
In addition to representing individuals in obtaining protective orders, attorneys can also help domestic violence survivors in leaving their abuser and putting an end to the violence by assisting the survivors in securing spousal and/or child support, finding a job, and securing a safe place to live.
There are excellent organizations that provide representation and assistance to low-income domestic violence victims including House of Ruth, Archdiocese of Washington, and Maryland Legal Aid but often times there is a waiting list. And as we all know, help for domestic violence victims cannot be put on hold. As Ms. Bergmark tells us, the most recent census of the National Network to End Domestic Violence revealed that only half of domestic violence programs are able to provide an advocate to go to court with a victim and only 11 percent of such programs offer legal representation. Clearly, there is a need in Maryland and throughout the country for more organizations to provide legal representation to domestic violence victims.
Protection from Abuse and Violence
Being able to live in your home, free of violence and abuse, is the most basic of all civil rights and yet it is the most neglected. Hopefully, legislatures throughout the country take note and provide the necessary funds so that organizations can provide representation to more domestic violence victims.
For over thirty years, I have assisted many organizations, such as House of Ruth, Sexual Assault Legal Institute, Archdiocese of Washington, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in the representation of indigent domestic violence survivors, and I am also available to represent individuals who retain me. If you would like to consult with or retain me or one of our other attorneys, please contact me at [email protected] or 301-563-6685. For more information about Domestic Violence Laws and how to seek help after-hours, click here: Andalman & Flynn’s Info. for Protection From Abuse and Violence.