By Emily de la Vega and Gabriel Hisugan
The Domestic Violence Project hosted its annual domestic violence panel on October 23, 2013, during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The panel was intended to give first year and continuing law students a first-hand look inside the various issues surrounding domestic violence. The panel included four distinguished members from the family law community: Referee Emily Martinez, a Custody, Visitation, and Order of Protection Referee from Brooklyn Family Court; Elizabeth Dank, the Program Director of the Staten Island Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT) with the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence; Shani Adess, a staff attorney with the New York Legal Assistance Group; and Cynthia Domingo-Foraste, the Director of the Domestic Violence Law Project at Safe Horizon. The panel was designed to include members of both the legal and social services communities in order to shed light on the crucial role each field plays in addressing the issue of domestic violence.
The panel responded to and discussed an interactive fact pattern designed to illustrate a situation of domestic violence. Throughout the discussion of the fact pattern, each member of the panel had the opportunity to explain her organization’s role in offering help to a victim. The fact pattern touched on many issues including the effects of unemployment, the lack of resources available to victims, and children being present during the violence. As the discussion developed, new facts were introduced in order to demonstrate the complexity of issues often faced by victims.
The discussion was very productive and there were quite a few interesting points about the civil or family law response to domestic violence. Perhaps most significant is the fundamental difference between Family Court proceedings and the criminal prosecution of domestic violence as a crime. When a prosecutor is assigned a case involving domestic violence, it may be prosecuted, whether or not the victim or complaining witness wants to continue the case. When victims of domestic violence request help from a domestic violence support organization like Safe Horizon, NYLAG or the DVRT, the victims determine their next steps through analyzing their options with help from these support organizations. In addition to legal solutions, such as seeking a civil order of protection in Family Court, these support organizations provide practical solutions to the victims of domestic violence. They refer clients to shelters that house victims who are trying to leave their abuser, provide lock changes to victims who wish to be separated from their abusers and also help the victims sign up for VINE, a service that alerts victims when their perpetrator is released from jail. The discussion further covered the serious need for housing for the victims of domestic violence. As the panelists noted, shelters are provided but they are only available for a certain period of time. For times of transition, such as a time of separation from an emotional and financial partner, that period of time is often too short. While victims may be given priority on public housing waiting lists, given the large number of requests for public housing, this is still only a partial solution. The panelists expressed that there is a serious need for a long term housing solution beyond what is currently available to the victims of domestic violence. The panel ended with a Question and Answer session in which several issues were discussed including social media, and services for perpetrators of domestic violence.
The New York Law School Domestic Violence Project is dedicated to the education of the student body about domestic violence and the support of domestic violence victims through donations collected during fundraising events. In addition to the Bake Sale and Panel this past October, the Domestic Violence Project will also be putting on a production this February to further raise funds for our beneficiary, Sanctuary for Families.