DC Volunteer Lawyers Project:
providing A voice to reach a better future
Imagine you’ve got eight children and a husband who abuses you physically and mentally. When you were younger, you thought he would deliver you from your difficult upbringing. But now he’s given you a head injury, and continues to threaten you. You’ve tried to get away from him twice before, but after fifteen years of marriage, you don’t know how you will be able to support eight children on your own.
This is clearly a case for DC Volunteer Lawyers Project.
DCVLP was founded in 2008 by attorneys Jenny Brody, Karen Barker Marcou and Marla Spindel. Their goal was to give domestic violence survivors and at-risk children access to free legal services. The organization provides the structure and resources individual attorneys need (meeting space, mentoring, malpractice insurance, etc.) to offer their services to low-income families in the DC area.
DCVLP works in three main areas:
· Child Advocacy Services—investigating domestic living situations in which children may be at risk due to abuse or neglect
· Domestic Violence—helping survivors file for civil protection orders and divorce, as well as providing a weekly walk-in clinic for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors
· Immigration—assisting non-US citizens who have been victims of domestic abuse, violent crimes or human trafficking
Co-founder and Co-executive director Barker Marcou believes that domestic violence work is where DCVLP has its biggest impact.
“Stopping the cycle of violence is important not just for the women, but also for the children growing up in abusive homes,” she said. “Protecting the children makes them less likely to go on to be abusers themselves.”
Jackie Love-Baker, licensed attorney and Director of Development at DCVLP has also worked with domestic violence clients firsthand. “Getting a civil protection order (also called a restraining order or stay-away order) is an overwhelming, complex, intimidating process,” said Love-Baker. “To have someone by your side throughout the whole process is essential for our clients.”
DCVLP concerns itself not only with the immediate danger of domestic violence, but also with the aftermath of the changed family structure. In the example above, DCVLP helped the client with eight children file for a Civil Protection Order and fought her husband’s counter-claim of abuse (a tactic Barker Marcou says abusers often use). Volunteer lawyers later helped her file for divorce, and win custody and child support. They went back to court with the client again after her ex-husband failed to pay his mandated child support. Through partner organizations, DCVLP was able to get her assistance paying bills and car repairs so she wouldn’t have to go back to her abuser. They were also able to steer her toward Section 8 housing, assistance physically moving in and furnishing her house, and even help getting an Individualized Education Program for one of her children who needed special education.
Given the nature of DCVLP’s work, most of their clients’ identities are protected. But Tisha Hyter, a domestic violence survivor and DCVLP Board Member, offered personal words of thanks in the organization’s 2014 Annual Report: “DCVLP provides a VOICE to those who find themselves voiceless. I remember that feeling from moons ago when I was going through my own personal situation. Even the most articulate people can feel at a loss for words.”