Survivors Organize First-Ever Leadership Conference

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out?

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out? How do we share our experiences while protecting our emotional and mental health? Can we create a safe space for survivors of all backgrounds to share and celebrate their stories?

These were some of the questions that guided our survivor leaders as they organized and led Sanctuary’s first-ever Survivor Leadership Conference in October.

dscf7148-editHosted by Gibney Dance, the Conference aimed to celebrate survivors’ journeys, strengthen resiliency and build survivor leadership within Sanctuary. Drawing on these questions and common goals, Conference organizers developed a program as empowering as it was healing.

dscf7143-editThe day’s events began at noon with a delicious buffet lunch catered by survivors and conference participants. As attendees filtered in and settled down, Sanctuary’s Executive Director Hon. Judy H. Kluger welcomed everyone and introduced Gwen Wright, Executive Director of the NY State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Gwen’s deeply personal speech about her abuse, escape and evolution as a survivor leader set the tone for the afternoon.

dscf7196-editPanel discussions throughout the day covered a range of topics and were interspersed with self-care exercises and art-therapy projects. The first panel, moderated by a Sanctuary board member and survivor leader, highlighted the diversity of survivor experience through powerful testimony. Panelists spoke of their experiences as survivors of sex trafficking, forced marriage, breast ironing, and domestic violence in heterosexual, as well as same-sex relationships, and shared how they are each working to raise awareness through community, education, art and nonprofit advocacy.

dscf7314-editThe second panel delved further into the process many survivors go through in realizing and nurturing their inner leader. Between panel discussions, attendees wrote notes on a Sanctuary tapestry, snapped a few photos for the survivor-led selfie project and practiced meditation to ease the weight of the day’s discussions. Towards the end of the afternoon, staff members shared how survivors could get involved in survivor leadership opportunities at Sanctuary, including advocacy and outreach efforts, and the larger movement to end gender violence.

Joan Hutton Mills

The conference came to close with a special interpretive dance performance by a survivor entitled Points of Change and the reciting of a poem titled, “Change,” by Sanctuary survivor and poet, Joan Hutton-Mills.

 

Sanctuary is grateful for the generous support of Gwen Wright, Gibney Dance, and Project Playdate (which oversaw childcare during the conference). A special thanks is of course due to Sanctuary staff, volunteers, our board members, and the survivors who organized and led this incredible event.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served those escaping abuse, helping them transform from victim to survivor. Moving forward, we will build on this experience, working closely with our survivors, to create an organization that not only helps victims become survivors but helps survivors become leaders. By harnessing their energy and knowledge we, as a movement, will transform society’s response to gender violence.

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Keep and Protect Her Kids

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cahill Gordon & Reindel attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “ZN.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “ZN,” a young, immigrant mother of four children. The Cahill team, consisting of partner Joel Kurtzberg, and associates Sara Ortiz, Chloe Sauer (currently of Barclays), and Ben A. Schatz (currently of the Center for Appellate Litigation) helped ZN obtain a finding of neglect against her husband, full custody of her children, and an Order of Protection, including all of her children, against her husband.

sara-ortiz

Pro Bono Council Co-Chair Ben A. Schatz talks with Sara Ortiz about her experience working with Sanctuary on the ZN matter.

Ben: Tell us briefly about the work you and your team did on behalf of ZN.

Sara: ZN is a young immigrant mother of four who had suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband. She came to Sanctuary a few years ago after her husband lied to police to have her falsely arrested, only to find his plan backfiring, and resulting in a neglect case against him in Bronx Family Court.

Working with Dara Sheinfeld, Sanctuary’s Legal Director in the Bronx and Manhattan, we prepared ZN for a trial in the neglect matter in Bronx Family Court, and filed petitions for custody and an order of protection, to be heard simultaneously.

At an emotional hearing in the neglect matter, ZN and her oldest son testified about the extensive physical and emotional abuse her husband inflicted on the family. In July 2015, the court made a finding of neglect against ZN’s husband, and granted ZN full custody of her children and a full five-year order of protection for herself and her children. We also then assisted ZN in obtaining a favorable child support order against her husband. We’re continuing to advocate on ZN’s behalf in other pending legal matters.

Ben: Has working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case helped you grow as a lawyer?

Sara: Absolutely. My work at Cahill primarily focuses on long-term, large-scale commercial litigation matters and investigations.  Working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case as a junior associate has given me a great chance to take the lead on a completely different and incredibly important case.

Also, I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, Dara.  I could not ask for a better legal mentor.  Dara is a brilliant advocate, and made herself available day and night to answer any questions that came up during the case. Dara clearly loves her job, and working with her and with Sanctuary undoubtedly has made me a better advocate.  

Ben: Sanctuary takes a holistic approach to helping its clients. How did you and Sanctuary help ZN in ways outside the courtroom?

Sara: Sanctuary lawyers are always looking to support their clients in ways that extend beyond the clients’ immediate legal needs. Inspired by this approach, we referred ZN to our holiday Adopt-a-Family program, helped ZN obtain public assistance benefits, got her children signed up for free summer camp, and made sure she left each of our meetings with anything she needed to care for herself and her four children, whether it be food, clothing, or a MetroCard.

I also personally helped ZN become more comfortable taking public transportation by exchanging text messages with photographs of our respective locations to make finding each other near the subway easier.  ZN even gained the confidence to take the train alone from the Bronx to Manhattan.

Ben: How has Cahill supported your pro bono work with Sanctuary?

Sara: Cahill has been unwavering in its support of my work with Sanctuary. The Firm has a deep and longstanding relationship with Sanctuary, spearheaded by Joel Kurtzberg when he was an associate (that was nearly two decades ago—Joel is now a partner).

In addition to its pro bono efforts, the Firm sponsors holiday drives, collecting hundreds of gift cards for Sanctuary clients, and has hosted resume review and interviewing skills workshops for survivors of domestic violence enrolled in Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.  It’s a privilege to work at a Firm that enables me to pursue pro bono work I feel passionate about.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Cahill Gordon & Reindel’s outstanding pro bono work.  Learn more about the event 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.

Hogan Lovells Successfully Defends Domestic Violence Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Hogan Lovells attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Lin.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Hogan Lovells attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Lin,” a Malaysian mother of a toddler boy. The Hogan Lovells team of partner Gary Serbin (currently at Kofsky Schwalb LLC), counsel Andrew Behrman (currently at Baker Botts LLP), and associates Nicole Schiavo, Anjum Unwala, and Jordan Estes (currently at the U.S. Department of Justice) fought hard and successfully to reverse a  federal court judgment ordering Lin to pay nearly $300,000 to her abusive husband.

When Lin came to Sanctuary she had already endured years of severe and repeated physical, sexual, and psychological violence in Singapore at the hands of her husband, a wealthy Iranian businessman.  Some of the incidents took place when she was holding her little boy.

Although Lin repeatedly reported the abuse to the police, sought medical treatment for injuries her husband inflicted on her, and attempted to obtain a civil protective order, she was unable to obtain the protection she and her baby needed. Fearing for her life and her child’s safety, she fled to New York with her son.

Lin’s husband filed a petition in the U.S. District Court in New York, demanding that the son be returned to Singapore pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Granting his attorney’s ex parte application, the District Court judge ordered the child to be seized by federal marshals and given to the father.

Going to trial

At trial Lin testified in detail about her husband’s abuse and the grave danger that she and her child would be in if forced to return to Singapore, and the court admitted into evidence multiple police reports and hospital records documenting the violence. Although U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel found that the father perpetrated multiple acts of domestic violence against the mother, some in the presence of the child, he ordered that the child be returned to Singapore.  The appellate court affirmed this decision.

Lin was heartbroken, but her husband was not through with his abuse.  He asked the District Court to force Lin to pay him $618,000 in legal fees and expenses for costs he incurred in litigating the Hague Convention case. Knowing this would financially devastate their client, Sanctuary turned to Hogan Lovells to fight the fee motion.

An uphill battle

The Hogan Lovells pro bono team rose to the challenge, arguing forcefully to Judge Castel that requiring Lin to pay her husband’s expenses would be “clearly inappropriate” given his history of domestic violence against her and her limited financial means.

Judge Castel rejected their argument that the domestic violence rendered a fee award inappropriate.  Although the team succeeded in reducing the fees by more than half, Judge Castel ordered Lin to pay nearly $300,000 to her abusive husband. 

“We advised Sanctuary that there were grounds to appeal the fee award, but it was highly unlikely that the appellate court would eliminate the fees entirely,” said Nicole Schiavo, a senior associate at Hogan Lovells.

“Nonetheless, we felt very strongly that a victim of abuse should not have to pay her batterer’s expenses, especially when those expenses resulted from the batterer’s own actions that caused the victim to flee.”

Knowing they faced an uphill battle, the team nonetheless filed a notice of appeal and took the fight to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, Lin’s husband launched a surprise procedural attack on the team’s notice of appeal.  “We got a call from opposing counsel claiming our notice of appeal was defective in that it was filed too late,” said Nicole. “He threatened that he would file a motion to dismiss our appeal as untimely if we didn’t voluntarily withdraw it.”

The Hogan Lovells team worked around the clock over the holiday weekend to respond to the emergency motion to dismiss the appeal.  The motion was ultimately defeated and the appeal was argued by former Hogan Lovells partner Gary Serbin in January 2015.

In March 2016, the Second Circuit issued a ruling that happily surprised everyone – the Court completely reversed Judge Castel’s order and eliminated the fee award in its entirety

Setting a new precedent

In an opinion written by Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, the Second Circuit found that awarding fees to Lin’s abusive husband was “clearly inappropriate” given his “multiple, unilateral acts of intimate partner violence” against her.  Chief Judge Katzmann stated that,

“intimate partner violence in any form is deplorable. It can include a range of behaviors, from a single slap to a lethal blow. However, we need not determine in the matter at hand what quantum of violence must have occurred to warrant a finding that fees are ‘clearly inappropriate,’ given the repeated violence established in the record here.”

“We jumped for joy after reading the decision, which sets a new precedent in the Second Circuit,” explained Nicole. “This decision makes clear that domestic violence alone can make a fees award to an abusive partner clearly inappropriate under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act.”

Reflecting on her experience working on the appeal, Hogan Lovells associate Anjum Unwala said, “We are so pleased that our team’s perseverance and expertise in international law achieved this favorable outcome. Most of all, we hope this decision helps our client move away from an abusive situation and go forward with her life.”

“Working with Sanctuary for Families gave me a true understanding of the tireless work they do as an organization to help those in need,” added Andrew Behrman, former Hogan Lovells counsel and now a partner at Baker Botts. “It was a privilege to play a small part in this case with them.”

For Lin, the Hogan Lovells victory ensured that she will not be impoverished and indebted as she struggles to reunite with her little boy in Singapore.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Hogan Lovells’ outstanding pro bono work.  Learn more about the event 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.

Erin Meyer is the Pro Bono Manager at Proskauer Rose LLP and was formerly a senior associate at Hogan Lovells US LLP.  She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond event.

Stories of Courage and Empowerment

Economic Empowerment Program graduates share stories of struggle and perseverance.

This past June, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empower Program held its semi-annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of forty-three strong and inspiring women, all survivors of domestic violence. With friends, family and Sanctuary staff in attendance, the women accepted their diplomas thereby marking the start of a new stage in both their personal and professional lives.

To honor the occasion the class elected fellow graduates to speak on their behalf. The speeches delivered by Coleen, Rebecah, and Yijie reflect many of the challenges that an estimated 25% of women in the U.S. have/will face in their lifetime. Follow the links below to read their speeches and hear their remarkable stories.

Coleen’s Story

Finding opportunity in every difficulty

“Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.”

Read on here.

Rebecah’s Story

Another chance at life

“Thinking [back on] a time when I sat in my unit at the shelter thinking to myself I am a single mother, jobless, and who the hell cares  I never thought I would be standing here basking in my own achievements. I didn’t want to constantly be a burden to people who had their own worries, so I shared a little and kept everything else to myself.”

Read on here.

Yijie’s Story

I am not a victim

“Even though I was free from abuse, my freedom was a harsh experience of shelter and struggle – I lost hope and wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going. This program has allowed me to improve myself as well as my professional skills. I was a professional in my native country of China. Now I feel confident and ready to be a professional again in America. Most importantly, I feel human again.”

Read on here.