Cleary Associate Uses Trauma-Informed Approach in Advocating for Survivors

for her trauma-informed advocacy in working with two survivors of domestic violence.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring Cleary Gottlieb associate and former Cleary Gottlieb Fellow Morton Bast for her trauma-informed advocacy in working with two survivors of domestic violence. Morton worked with both clients for over a year, going so far as to take both cases with her back to Cleary Gottlieb in order to continue her legal representation from the firm.

In a previous Pro Bono Spotlight, Sanctuary for Families highlighted the work that Cleary associate Morton Bast did as a Cleary Gottlieb Fellow at Sanctuary. This groundbreaking new Fellowship placed Cleary associates full-time at legal services organizations for one full year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities during the pandemic while enabling Cleary Fellows to continue expanding their skill sets and pursue their specific interests. This year’s Above and Beyond Awards ceremony will honor Morton for the extensive work she did with two clients, Ms. D and Ms. O, both at Sanctuary and later at Cleary Gottlieb.

After being trained on how to approach trauma-informed, client-centered advocacy, Morton diligently and immediately set about putting these ideals into practice. Providing legal services to survivors of trauma, while extremely rewarding, of course, poses its own unique challenges, and Morton quickly learned that trauma can interfere with a person’s ability to recall details and to tell a coherent story of their experiences. One client, Ms. D, was deeply traumatized by her experiences of severe domestic violence and, as a result, extremely anxious about testifying in court – in addition to being extremely frustrated by over four years of litigation. Morton worked extensively with the client for hours at a time to gain her trust and prepare her for trial at her own pace.

“One of the major challenges of this case was that the client was not able to share her experiences in the typical structure of a direct examination, i.e. broken up into pieces in response to the attorney’s questions; she really needed to get into the zone and just deliver her story all at once. So rather than trying to force that, Morton and our team reconstructed the direct examination to allow the client to be the most comfortable telling her story on her own terms.”

Jennifer Friedman
Director of Sanctuary’s Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project

When Morton’s Fellowship at Sanctuary ended, she took Ms. D’s case with her back to Cleary Gottlieb. Ultimately, the case was settled at the eleventh hour on the morning that trial was scheduled with a highly favorable result for the client: an admission to domestic violence from the abuser and a 2-year Order of Protection, as well as consent to full legal and physical custody of the children. After this settlement, Morton stayed actively involved in the ongoing visitation case, which was also finally settled recently. Morton engaged in extensive negotiations with opposing counsel, drafted the final visitation stipulation, and was in constant communication with her client to ensure that the final visitation schedule was safe and enabled her to maintain her work schedule. Finally, after three and a half years of litigation, and Morton’s dedicated advocacy, Ms. D’s cases are resolved.

In Morton’s other major case, she drafted a motion for an extension of an Order of Protection for Ms. O, whose abuser, a convicted pedophile, was seeking visitation with their child. Morton, after leaving Sanctuary, continued on this case as well, successfully arguing the motion before the court in August and obtaining a final 2-year extension for the client.

In both the quality of her trauma-informed advocacy and her long-term dedication to her clients, Morton has truly gone above and beyond. Sanctuary is delighted to recognize Morton for her outstanding work on these cases.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Morton and Cleary Gottlieb’s outstanding pro bono work.


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

Romy Felsen-Parsons is Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.

New Study Shows Benefits of Dance/Movement Programs

In partnership with Teachers College, Columbia University and Gibney, Sanctuary for Families recently completed the first randomized, controlled study exploring the impact of dance and movement on the mental health and well-being of survivors of intimate partner violence.

First Randomized, Controlled Trial on the Impact of Movement for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence Conducted by Gibney, Sanctuary for Families, and Teachers College, Columbia University.


New York, NY, August 16, 2022 –
A new study, Exploring a Dance/Movement Program on Mental Health and Well-Being in Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence During a Pandemic, has shown that the participants’ symptoms of PTSD and psychological distress measurably lessened over the course of a 12-session virtual movement program. Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, the study is the first randomized, controlled study exploring the impact of dance and movement on the mental health and well-being of survivors of intimate partner violence, also known as domestic violence. It was conducted through a partnership between the New York City-based dance and social justice organization Gibney; Sanctuary for Families, a non-profit organization dedicated to aiding survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence; and Teachers College, Columbia University, a graduate school of education, health, and psychology.

Gibney’s Move to Move BeyondTM program was launched in 1999 in partnership with Sanctuary for Families. Move to Move BeyondTM is an evidence-based program that offers the transformative power of movement to survivors of intimate partner violence and their families and provides an environment for positive physical expression and community building.

“Move to Move BeyondTM was created through a thoughtful collaboration between dancers, survivors, and social workers. We set out to create a trauma-informed way to offer movement as a tool for survivors and it has been beautiful to see the work and its impact grow and evolve over time,” said Gina Gibney, Founder, Artistic Director, and CEO.

Core tenets of the program model, such as honoring choice and bodily autonomy, offer survivors somatic tools to support their healing journey:

“I really enjoyed the movement… being able to put my own words and my own feelings into movement,” said one participant in the study. “I felt like that helped me to express myself a little bit better and to be able to say what I didn’t really know how to say.”

According to renowned Harvard University trauma expert Judith L. Herman, M.D.’s work, trauma creates disconnection from self and others. Rebuilding healthy connections, therefore, is an important component of recovery. During the study’s focus group interviews, participants shared that movement was that bridge for them:

“I found myself really connecting to the music and to giving myself that time to connect… to my body, which I had disconnected from for a long time,” said one participant.

“The increase in intimate partner violence during the pandemic was widely reported,” said Dr. Allison R. Ross, Deputy Clinical Director at Sanctuary for Families. “Research continues to show that intimate partner violence has an ongoing negative impact on the wellbeing of survivors and increases the risk for development of mental health disorders that include depression, low self-esteem, psychological distress, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”

“Our aims were to determine the feasibility of delivering a virtual dance/movement workshop program, to examine the effects of the program on symptoms of PTSD and psychological distress, to determine whether heart rate variability, a measure of the body’s stress responses, improves as a result of participating in the program, and to describe the individual and shared experiences of participants of the program,” added Dr. Carol Ewing Garber, Professor of Movement Sciences, Director, Graduate Program in Applied Physiology at the Teachers College at Columbia University.

“Through our ongoing Move to Move BeyondTM program, we have observed improvements in mental and physical health among the participants,” said Yasemin Özümerzifon, Senior Director of Community Action at Gibney. “It’s extremely rewarding to know that these programs can also be effective when conducted in a virtual format, and to have the results of this study confirm what we’ve seen in terms of the benefits to the participants.”

Findings from the study of the Move to Move BeyondTM program model suggest that dance and movement can have a meaningful and effective role in addressing trauma. These results encourage providing trauma-informed movement workshops for survivors of intimate partner violence as a complementary tool to the essential social services provided by domestic violence agencies.


In the study, 45 women ages 23–48 years were randomly assigned to a 12-session virtual creative dance/movement program or a usual care control group. Each group completed questionnaires about PTSD and mental health symptoms, general health, physical activity, and underwent a brief measurement of heart rate variability. A subset of the intervention group participated in a semi-structured focus group. The virtual format of the study launched in December 2020. Data collection took place throughout the pandemic and concluded in August 2021.


The results of the study showed that the survivors of intimate partner violence who participated in the virtual workshops experienced improved mood and reduced tension. They found new ways to express themselves, attune to their bodies, learn new self-care habits, and build community as they engaged in the workshops. Over the course of the study, the participants’ symptoms of PTSD and psychological distress lessened. There were no detectable changes in heart rate variability.


The study showed feasibility and acceptability of a movement/dance program provided in an online format during the global COVID-19 pandemic, wherein many participants were most likely experiencing additional traumatic events. Survivors enjoyed the workshops and found they felt better after participating in the program. A number of participants shared that they were integrating some of what they learned during the workshops into their daily lives. Participation resulted in improvements in some mental health symptoms and overall well-being.

With this finding, there is an opportunity to expand the framework nationally to offer access to this model of somatic healing to more survivors of intimate partner violence as a way to increase the range of resources available to them. Further, this framework may also inspire utilizing collaborative, interdisciplinary partnerships to address complex health issues, such as trauma. Implementation of this model on a larger scale and continued study of the ways that movement impacts a person’s healing journey when they experience trauma would be valuable to add to the current body of knowledge.



Gina Gibney, Founder, Artistic Director, and CEO
Yasemin Özümerzifon, Senior Director of Community Action
Tessa Brinza, Research & Partnerships Manager

Sanctuary for Families

Dr. Allison Ross, Deputy Clinical Director

Teachers College, Columbia University

Dr. Carol Ewing Garber, Professor of Movement Sciences. Director, Graduate Program in Applied Physiology.

Funding for Exploring a Dance/Movement Program on Mental Health and Well-Being in Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence During a Pandemic was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.


Founded by Gina Gibney in 1991, Gibney is a New York City-based performing arts and social action organization that taps into the vast potential of movement, creativity, and performance to effect social change and personal transformation. Gibney’s trauma-informed Move to Move Beyond MTMB™ workshop model was originally created in 1999 in partnership with Sanctuary for Families by bringing together the strengths of dancers and social workers. Dancers through years of training focus on expressing themselves using their bodies and building community using movement, and social workers hold particular expertise in providing mental health support and recovery to survivors. Hundreds of free MTMB™ workshops are offered annually to individuals and families who are on journeys to healthier futures, and a virtual model of our Move to Move BeyondTM workshops was also created in response to COVID-19 and its negative impact on survivors.

Sanctuary for Families

Sanctuary for Families is New York’s leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence. Every year, Sanctuary empowers thousands of adults and children to move from fear and abuse to safety and stability, transforming lives through a range of comprehensive clinical, legal, shelter, and economic empowerment services. Sanctuary’s 220 full-time staff communicate with clients in over 25 languages and provide services in 11 locations throughout New York City. Sanctuary also engages around 2,700 volunteers annually, including social work interns and nearly 1,000 pro bono lawyers. Furthermore, through education, awareness-building, and advocacy initiatives, Sanctuary educates the public about gender violence and the resources available to survivors while promoting improved policies and practices at the local, state, national, and international levels.

Teachers College, Columbia University

Teachers College, Columbia University is a graduate school of education, health, and psychology, founded in the late 19th Century. It was founded on the proposition that education alone can’t correct our society’s inequalities — that to maximize the life chances of all people, we must also support poorer communities’ physical and nutritional health and psychological wellbeing. Thus, fields such as education psychology, nursing education, nutrition education, special education, conflict resolution and spirituality and education were created at TC, and for more than a century it has prepared psychologists, movement scientists, nutritionists, health educators, speech pathologists and other professionals, as well as teachers and school leaders. The Movement Science & Education program approaches the study of movement from a multidisciplinary perspective. Its focus is on the practical applications of science and theory in the laboratory, clinic, school, and community. It has a particular focus on the promotion of physical activity in diverse populations and research about the effects of physical activity on the brain, physiological processes, physical and mental health, and overall well-being


Megan V. Sprenger

Alli Steinberg

Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Hogan Lovells: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Hogan Lovells and their team’s fantastic work in securing asylum for a Honduran survivor escaping extreme domestic abuse and gang violence.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*

Assisting an Asylum Seeker Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence

Representing survivors of severe abuse or trafficking seeking to secure asylum can be a legally and emotionally challenging process. It is also an exhilarating process that provides a unique opportunity for pro bono teams to engage in creative lawyering, build meaningful client relationships, and secure an outcome that is life-changing for a survivor. Asylum is often the only way survivors of severe violence and exploitation can find safety and stability for themselves and their children. Sanctuary for Families is incredibly grateful to the pro bono attorneys who volunteer to help the courageous survivors seeking refuge in the United States.

Sanctuary recently had the pleasure of working with a team of talented pro bono attorneys from Hogan Lovells LLP: Jonathan Wieder, Juan Moreno, Ian Lewis-Slammon, and supervising partner Dennis Tracey. This stellar team worked hand in hand with a Honduran survivor of extreme domestic abuse and gang violence, “Serena,” who ultimately successfully secured asylum in the United States.

Serena was born and raised in Honduras, where she began dating “B,” a prominent gang member in the area. As the relationship progressed, B started to subject Serena to violent physical and sexual abuse and repeatedly threatened her life. Due to B’s gang affiliations, he enlisted several other men to stalk and harass Serena, even during a stint of imprisonment. Serena, who had grown up in an area controlled by gang violence and had witnessed multiple murders in broad daylight, and whose brother had also been murdered by a gang member, was terrified of her abuser and the very credible threats he made upon her life. Her attempts to flee to neighboring countries resulted in periods of homelessness and multiple deportations back to Honduras, where her situation grew increasingly life-threatening. Ultimately, Serena was able to enter the United States and apply for asylum with the help of Sanctuary for Families.

The Hogan Lovells team took on Serena’s case in 2020 during the Trump administration and was immediately faced with a staggering challenge: then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recently stated that domestic violence survivors and gang violence survivors would not, as a general matter, be eligible for asylum protection. Serena’s case had been potentially stalled right out of the gate.

Undeterred, the attorneys got to work and began strategizing. Instead of building Serena’s asylum claim based on her experiences of domestic violence, they framed her claim upon the discrimination and antipathy she had experienced due to her gender in Honduras, the country with the highest femicide rates in Latin America. Building this claim involved careful planning around how to acquire police records and witness testimonies from Honduras without endangering any of Serena’s family members. With the administration’s change in 2021 and the onset of Covid in 2020, the team pivoted again. By the time Serena’s final claim was presented, after countless hours of research, pulling together supporting evidence and affidavits, and direct- and cross-examination practice with Serena, the ICE attorney from the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor stipulated asylum, agreeing that Serena’s claim was so strong that it did not need to be taken to a hearing.

When reflecting on their experience, Jonathan and Ian both expressed that it was a privilege to work with Serena on her case, highlighting her enormous role in its success. In a phone call, both attorneys also emphasized how critical Juan’s Spanish-speaking skills were in communicating with and building trust with the client, a monolingual Spanish speaker. Jonathan, a first-year associate when he was first staffed on the case, also credits Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project Pooja Asnani with her extensive expertise and for allowing the team to build a solid foundational understanding of asylum cases with which to move forward.

“At every stage in preparation for this case, I was impressed by the team’s trauma-informed approach to working with ‘Serena,’ their close attention to the fact evidence and legal arguments, and their dedication to this case and the client. I loved working with this team and would welcome any opportunity to work with them again.” -Pooja Asnani.

Hogan Lovells Partner Pieter Van Toll, who helps coordinate Hogan’s pro bono program, was thrilled with the outcome. “Peter [Bautz, who also helps coordinate Hogan’s pro bono work] and I congratulate the entire Hogan Lovells team for their excellent work winning asylum for a deserving immigrant. We are proud of the work Hogan Lovells has been doing with Sanctuary for Families on these types of asylum cases and other important issues and look forward to helping them on future matters.”

Sanctuary for Families is immeasurably grateful to our pro bono partners for their work supporting survivors. It has been a pleasure to work with this team, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with these attorneys and with Hogan Lovells in the future.

Join the team from Hogan Lovells in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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The Links Between Disability & Domestic Violence

Disability and abuse impact a sizable percentage of the population, but the links between them are too often ignored. 

In honor of Disability Pride Month, we’d like to bring awareness to how domestic violence impacts the disabled community. 

In the U.S., abuse and disability impact a sizable percentage of the population— 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are subjected to domestic violence throughout their lifetime, and roughly a quarter of all adults have a range of physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities.

Unfortunately, the ways in which abuse and disability intersect are too often ignored.

People with disabilities experience higher rates of domestic violence and sexual assault than non-disabled people. 70% of disabled people experience some form of abuse and are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted. 

Simultaneously bearing the brunt of misogyny and ableism, disabled women are especially vulnerable. 80% of women with disabilities have been sexually assaulted, and they experience intimate partner violence at a rate 40% higher than non-disabled women. Not only is the likelihood of violence high, but the acts of violence themselves are also more frequent and severe

Sexual assault and intimate partner violence are just two of many forms of abuse that disabled people face— disabled women are more likely than their non-disabled counterparts to experience physical abuse and reproductive coercion, and both women and men with disabilities are more likely to experience stalking and psychological abuse

Unsurprisingly, children with disabilities are disproportionately affected by various types of violence— they are more than twice as likely to be physically abused and almost twice as likely to be sexually abused

Evidently, abuse in the disabled community runs rampant— but why? 

In many cases, the abuser will take advantage of an individual’s particular disability and use it against them to maintain power within that relationship. For instance, if a disabled person needs assistance when eating, the abuser may refuse to feed them as a way to manipulate and control the victim. 

This is only one of the unique forms of abuse that disabled people face — other examples include:

  • Invalidating or minimizing a disability
  • Refusing to help with necessary daily tasks (e.g., using the bathroom, dispensing medication)
  • Over-medicating, tampering with, and/or withholding medication
  • Denying access to healthcare appointments or disability resources
  • Sexual assault when a disability inhibits a person’s ability to consent
  • Stealing or withholding finances (e.g., social disability checks)
  • Destroying or denying access to mobility devices (e.g., wheelchairs, walkers, etc.)
  • Harming or threatening to harm a service animal
  • Using the disability to cause shame, humiliation and justify the abuse
  • Threats of abandonment
  • Intentionally ignoring personal care and hygiene

Because people with disabilities are often isolated and dependent on a small support circle, in nearly 100% of cases, survivors with disabilities experience abuse at the hands of someone they trust— usually a family member, intimate partner, or caregiver, including health aides and living facility attendants. A small circle of people also means fewer points of contact, and thus fewer opportunities to escape the cycle of abuse. 

Despite its prevalence, domestic abuse against disabled people is often overlooked, with 70% to 85% of cases of abuse going unreported. That number is even higher for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities— a whopping 97% of cases are not reported, even though they are the most vulnerable to abuse.

Moreover, because so many cases of abuse against disabled people go unreported, very few cases are prosecuted. Only 5% of reported crimes against people with disabilities go to trial, compared to 70% of severe crimes against people without disabilities.

There are various reasons for such a low help-seeking rate in the disabled community. Survivors with disabilities face unique barriers to seeking help — they can be heavily dependent on their abusive caretaker and risk losing their assistance if they report the abuse. Lack of communication devices, interpretation, transportation, and sensitive services can also prevent disabled survivors from finding safety. Other reasons for not reporting abuse include fear of losing autonomy, custody of a child, or being institutionalized. 

Even if a disabled person does leave their abuser, the struggle doesn’t end there — many domestic violence shelters do not accommodate mobility aids, and service providers often lack the training necessary to support the particular needs of survivors with disabilities. Only 35% of facilities have disability awareness training for their staff, and only 16% have a dedicated staff person to deliver services to women with disabilities. 

It must be noted that LGBTQ+ and BIPOC survivors with disabilities face additional challenges within the disabled community. Disabled LGBTQ+ survivors may feel like outsiders within both communities— LGBTQ+ services and facilities may not be accessible for disabled people, and disability services may not be sensitive to LGBTQ+ issues. 

What’s more, disabled BIPOCs are at a higher risk for police brutality. In the U.S., half of those killed by law enforcement are disabled, and over half of Black people with disabilities have been arrested by the time they turn 28 — compared to less than a third of their disabled white counterparts.

We must put disabled survivors at the forefront of the conversation to end domestic violence. Understanding the unique struggles faced by the disabled community and other minorities is essential to providing comprehensive and sensitive care, developing appropriate preventative measures, and breaking stigmas and harmful social attitudes. There is no freedom from violence until we are all free.


Sanctuary’s services are free and available to all survivors living in New York City, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital or immigration status. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help.

Here are some additional disability-specific resources:

Barrier Free Living NYC 

Barrier Free Living is nationally recognized as the first fully accessible emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence with disabilities.

Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services

ADWAS empowers Deaf and DeafBlind survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment to transform their lives while striving to change the beliefs and behaviors that foster and perpetuate violence. They provide comprehensive services to individuals and families, community education, and advocacy on systems and policy issues.

National Deaf Domestic Violence Hotline 

The NDDVH is available to Deaf callers across the nation, answering videophone calls and emails 24/7. Deaf advocates, because of their experience working in the field of Domestic Violence for Deaf survivors and their extensive training, are uniquely able to provide crisis intervention, education, information, and referrals for Deaf callers.

The Arc

The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

End Abuse of People With Disabilities

End Abuse of People With Disabilities activates people and organizations across movements to end violence against people with disabilities and Deaf people through a shared, intersectional framework.