It’s been six months since Legal Aid launched our new Domestic Violence Underserved Communities Representation Project, funded in large part through a grant from the D.C. Bar Foundation, and we are excited to celebrate this milestone by sharing how the project has been unfolding.
At the core of this project is the establishment of a Legal Aid presence at the Northwest Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC) in D.C. Superior Court. For years, Legal Aid attorneys have been staffing the DVIC Southeast, located at the United Medical Center Hospital, working closely with other service providers, including those who help domestic violence survivors secure emergency housing, open a child support case, and write a petition to file for a Civil Protection Order (CPO). To the extent we handled cases involving petitioners who had come to the NW DVIC, however, it was by referral, after the survivor had already initiated CPO proceedings. Now that Legal Aid is staffing the NW DVIC too, we are able to meet and assist survivors at the initial point of contact there as well, making it possible for us to advise them before they even file for a CPO.
These early conversations make a big difference.
For the woman who believes her abuser’s threats to take the children or to make them all homeless, it can make a huge difference to have a lawyer explain to her that a CPO can provide her temporary custody, allow her and her children to stay in the family home, and make her eligible for relocation assistance through the Crime Victims Compensation Program.
For the man who’s not sure whether to have his abusive boyfriend served by the Metropolitan Police Department or to find a private process server, we can walk through the pros and cons of both approaches and assist him with filing the appropriate return of service form if he does decides to make his own arrangements.
And for the young woman who seeks catharsis by deleting her abuser’s text messages or voicemails from her phone, she may – after talking to a Legal Aid attorney – realize that she would be best served to save such messages for a potential CPO or custody case down the line.
Legal Aid provides petitioners at the DVIC NW with more than just a lawyer who can who help them get their cases started. We also offer our clients a reliable source of information and support in the weeks leading up to their first court date and beyond. Whether we are making calls on their behalf to social service agencies or referring another legal issue to our colleagues in Legal Aid’s Housing, Public Benefits, and Consumer units, we provide our clients with steadfast advocacy from the beginning of their CPO case to its end, and sometimes beyond.
All in all, over the last six months, our Domestic Violence Underserved Communities Representation Project has already enabled us to serve over 100 low-income individuals of many different backgrounds who have endured stalking, sexual assault, harassment, and numerous forms of physical violence. We look forward to continuing our work at the DVIC NW.