O’Melveny & Myers & Paul Weiss Attorneys Assist Mother in International Child Abduction Prosecution

At this year’s Above & Beyond Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison for their pro bono assistance in an international parental kidnapping prosecution. Read to learn more.

Nicole Vescova is an associate at Klein Zelman Rothermel Jacobs & Schess, advising management in labor, employment and employee benefit issues, and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers (O’Melveny) and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison (Paul Weiss) for their pro bono assistance in an international parental kidnapping prosecution.

The dedicated and hardworking team included partners Andrew Frackman and Mark Racanelli, and associate Emilie Winckel of O’Melveny; and of counsel Daniel J. Beller, associates Gregory Pruden (now an associate at Binder & Schwartz LLP), Kristina Bunting, and Benjamin D. Gitlin, and partner Aidan Synnott of Paul, Weiss.

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Hind Kettani and her husband moved from their native Morocco to the United States to begin their careers in the medical field.  Following their move to the US, Dr. Kettani and her husband had two boys.  After the birth of their children, Dr. Kettani and her husband’s relationship started to swiftly deteriorate.

Dr. Kettani’s husband became extremely controlling and subjected her to verbal abuse and constant surveillance. As she attempted to balance the demands of her residency program with the care of her children and increasingly difficult marriage, Dr. Kettani accepted what she thought was her mother-in-law’s generous offer to have the children visit their grandparents in Morocco for a few weeks. But when Dr. Kettani traveled to Morocco to bring the children back to the US, she discovered that her husband and his family were withholding the children’s passports, preventing them from leaving the country.

It became clear that Dr. Kettani would need to obtain a divorce and sole custody of the children in order to bring them back to the US, so she immediately instituted proceedings in Morocco. After almost two years of shuttling between the two countries, she finally obtained a Moroccan custody order, which she registered in New York, and obtained new passports for the children. She believed their time apart would end soon.  That is until she returned to Morocco to pick up the children to find that her husband had already left the country with them.

Criminal Justice

From November 2011 to November 2015, Dr. Kettani’s ex-husband ignored court orders, hiding her children from her. She tirelessly pursued all possible means of finding and reuniting with her children. She worked with courts in the U.S. and Morocco, as well as authorities in various countries. The FBI located the children in Saudi Arabia and brought them home. Her ex-husband was placed in custody and, after four excruciating years of separation, Dr. Kettani was finally reunited with her children. Her ex-husband was charged with international parental kidnapping and ordered to stay away from Dr. Kettani and the children as a condition to his bail.

Fearful that her ex-husband or his family could kidnap her children again, Dr. Kettani reached out to Sanctuary for Families for help. Dorchen Leidholdt, Sanctuary for Family’s Legal Director, instantly recognized the severity of the situation and recruited outside counsel to ensure the criminal case would not be pled down or resolved in a way that would leave Dr. Kettani’s family without the protection they so desperately needed.

Paul Weiss advised Dr. Kettani on child custody law issues arising from proceedings in both New York and Morocco, and enlisted the expertise of O’Melveny to assist Dr. Kettani in the criminal proceedings.

O’Melveny’s Emilie Winckel describes Dr. Kettani as “incredibly strong and determined” and someone who “put the safety and wellbeing of her children above all else.” The firm assisted Dr. Kettani in her interactions with the U.S. Attorney’s office as a witness for the prosecution. In response to her ex-husband’s application for deferred prosecution, O’Melveny drafted a strong opposition, ensuring Dr. Kettani’s voice was heard.  When the Court denied his application, the O’Melveny team made sure the denial would not be reversed on appeal. Further, after he pled guilty to international parental kidnapping, O’Melveny worked with the prosecution to ensure that his sentence would reflect the severity of his crime.

Working Together While Moving Forward

While Dr. Kettani’s ex-husband is currently incarcerated, Paul Weiss continues to assist Dr. Kettani in ensuring she maintains custody of the children. Both teams look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Kettani and Sanctuary.

Winckel credited everyone at Sanctuary, Paul Weiss and O’Melveny who worked on the case and made “sure we had a cohesive strategy across both the criminal and family court proceedings.” She also noted how grateful she is to O’Melveny for its support of the matter, which entailed a significant amount of attorney time.

Paul Weiss’s Gregory Pruden praised Sanctuary’s Dorchen Leidholdt and Sanctuary volunteer Lynn Beller for their tireless dedication, “as well as the bravery of our FBI agents,” all of whom were “integral to the success of our work.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Weiss’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

6 ways Survivor Leaders raised awareness about domestic violence this October

Survivors marched, trained, tabled and more in an effort to educate their communities about abuse during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The fall can be a hectic time but every year, October presents an unique opportunity for survivors and advocates to bring the issue of domestic violence to the forefront of the public’s attention. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to say the women is Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Program were busy, would be an understatement.

See the many ways these survivors worked to educate their communities this past month and learn more about Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Program.

1. Marching in the Brides’ March


Survivor Leaders marched in the Eighteenth Annual Gladys Ricart and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk, more commonly known as the Brides’ March. Each year, survivors and community advocates march from Washington Heights, through the South Bronx and into Harlem in memory of Gladys Ricart, a Dominican woman from Washington Heights, who was murdered in New Jersey on September 26, 1999 by her abusive former boyfriend on the day she was to wed her fiancé.

2. Training fellow survivors

Sharing personal experiences of abuse can be extremely challenging. Through our Survivor Leadership Program, these women have learned how share their stories in a way that is safe and empowering for them and informs those they’re speaking to about the various forms of abuse. Last month, these Survivor Leaders led a Domestic Violence 101 training and instructed a group of survivors at the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic and Gender Based Violence on how to do the same.

3. Telling stories through dance

Through Sanctuary’s partnership with Gibney Dance, a number of survivors are exploring storytelling through movement and dance. The photo above was taken following night two of Cracks of Light, a special Domestic Violence Awareness Month performance that is hosted each year by Gibney.

4. Press Interviews

Escaping domestic violence is never easy, but for immigrant victims the challenges can be unique. Leticia spoke candidly with Telemundo in mid-October about her experience with abuse. Deputy Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center, Linda Lopez, provided additional information and context about the U Visa and other forms of relief that are available to undocumented immigrant victims of gender violence.

Watch the interview (in Spanish) here. 

5. Tabling

Hospitals can be important points for intervention when it comes to domestic violence. Survivor Leaders passed out information on the signs of abuse and Sanctuary’s services to medical professionals and patients at the Kings County Hospital; reminding everyone that abuse can take many forms and that help is available.

6. Trainings

Survivor Leaders know that in order to effect change, we must engage everyone, especially those who control important levers of power. Kristin (center) trained New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYS DOCCS) employees on domestic violence, an experience that the vast majority of people in New York State prisons have in common.

About the Survivor Leadership Program

Recognizing the importance of advocacy in the healing process for many survivors and the value of survivor expertise in community engagement, Sanctuary first launched a leadership program for survivors back in 1998. This initiative, known as the Mentors Program, trained dozens of survivors to  use their experience as survivors to educate their communities, mentor other survivors, and become public speakers all while maintaining their safety and practicing self-care.

Last year, the Mentors Program was renamed the Survivor Leadership Program and in August, we brought on our first-ever Survivor Leadership Coordinator to manage the Survivor Leadership trainings, a growing and increasingly active alumni group, and all survivor leadership activity at Sanctuary.

Sanctuary staff contribute to New York Times article on illicit massage parlor industry

When Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Dan Barry began his investigation into the tragic death of Song Yang, a Chinese woman ensnared in the illicit massage parlor industry, he turned to our Anti-Trafficking Initiative (ATI).

Lori Cohen is the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. 

When Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Dan Barry began his investigation into the tragic death of Song Yang, a Chinese woman ensnared in the illicit massage parlor industry, he turned to Sanctuary for Families’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative (ATI). Interviewing ATI’s Manager of Outreach Yvonne Chen a dozen times over an eight-month period, as well as myself, “The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail,” published as a special Sunday Times report in mid-October of 2018, is a heartbreaking portrait of a life extinguished too soon.

Barry reached out to Sanctuary because the Anti-Trafficking Initiative has gained renown for its ability to identify trafficking survivors and provide comprehensive services to individuals seeking to escape the commercial sex industry. Our staff of Mandarin and Korean-speaking attorneys and case managers have been instrumental in educating law enforcement, service providers, and advocates on the cultural, political, and economic factors that trap East Asian women in the commercial sex trade.

With our pro bono partners, ATI has served some one thousand immigrant women referred for consultations through New York City’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts. Additionally, Sanctuary staff have conducted direct outreach to Chinese and Korean women in massage parlors throughout New York City, advising them of their legal rights, including their right to be free of violence inflicted by the men purchasing them for sex.

While ATI was privileged to serve as a key resource for Barry’s investigative report, we are deeply saddened by a lost opportunity to meet “Jane Doe Ponytail”. Following an earlier arrest, the Human Trafficking Intervention Court had referred her to Sanctuary for a consultation. Sadly, she died the week before her scheduled appointment. In reading of her loneliness and sense of futility, we only wish that our team had been able to provide her with the help she so desperately needed. Her loss has spurred us to redouble our efforts in the hopes of helping the many other individuals like Song Yang to become free from commercial sexual exploitation.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read this important piece.

Sanctuary secures largest NYS Office of Victims Services grant out of 61 competing service providers

Sanctuary will receive $4.5 million over 5 years in new funding to expand high-need areas of our legal services. Read to learn how these new funds will be used.

We are thrilled to share that earlier this fall, Sanctuary was awarded over $4.5 million in new funding, more than any other agency in New York, from the State Office of Victims Services (OVS). The grant, which will be disbursed over five years, is part of a larger pool of $17 million which OVS is distributing to 61 leading victim assistance programs to support the hiring of attorneys who will assist crime victims with civil legal matters.

With this new funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire 9 staff members to support high-need areas of our legal services.


Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project serves the highest volume of clients of any project within our Legal Center. Since President Trump came into office, the challenges our immigration attorneys have faced on behalf of our clients have been escalating on a nearly daily basis. Over the last two years, our staff have experienced a drastic increase in the amount of time and resources needed in order to effectively represent each client. These changes have resulted in overwhelming case loads and an increasingly long waitlist.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire two staff attorneys and two project assistants to join our Immigration Intervention Project.

Campus Gender Violence

Sanctuary initially addressed the interlinked problem of sexual assault and gender violence on college campuses by launching the Campus Advocates Project in 2014 in partnership with Columbia University. The project brought resources and advocacy for victims of sexual assault. Recognizing the need to expand these services to higher education institutions across New York City, Sanctuary launched the Campus Gender Violence Project in 2017. With just two attorneys working on this project, however, and a growing need for legal consultation and representation on behalf of survivors of campus sexual or intimate partner violence, we are excited to expand this program.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire a new staff attorney to join our Campus Gender Violence Project.

Legal Helpline

Sanctuary’s Legal Helpline receives approximately 700 calls per year by survivors of gender-based violence seeking legal assistance – some are calling to learn about their legal rights and possible recourses while others are facing looming courts dates and are in the midst of litigation without adequate representation. Currently, two staff attorneys with caseloads of their own, with the support of a project assistant with additional outreach responsibilities, manage this helpline. Given the high demand for legal information, advocacy, and representation, Sanctuary urgently needed to increase staffing.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire a new Legal Helpline/Family Law staff attorney and a Legal Helpline project assistant to better meet both the requests survivors present and to identify the additional array of needs through thorough assessment.


Sanctuary’s Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project (EJP) advocates on behalf of economically-disadvantaged domestic violence and trafficking victims in a wide-range of cases. EJP’s goal is to ensure that our clients and their children survive financially in the short-term and receive economic and housing stability in the long term, while severing their legal ties to their abusers. For survivors of gender violence, many of whom struggle financially, this kind of multifaceted legal representation is critical. Over this last year, however, staffing changes have revealed a need for additional support.

With the OVS funding, Sanctuary will be able to hire a new staff attorney to focus on uncontested divorces and a project assistant to join our Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project.

Considering the 19% rise in the number of domestic violence police reports the NYPD saw between 2016 and 2017, the increasing reluctance of undocumented gender violence victims to report abuse for fear of deportation, and rapidly changing policies around sexual assault on college campuses, this OVS grant could not come at a better time.

We thank Governor Cuomo and the Office of Victims Services for their support and commitment to ending gender-based violence in New York, and look forward to seeing the impact this funding will have in extending more services to victims in need.