Cyber Sexual Abuse Survivor Nathaly Speaks Out

On November 16th, the New York City Council voted in favor of passing a law to criminalize the non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit images. Read the speech survivor and former Sanctuary client, Nathaly, delivered at the press conference.

On November 16th, the New York City Council unanimously voted to pass a law criminalizing the non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit images. Cyber sexual abuse (also known as “revenge porn”) is an increasingly common and particularly devastating form of domestic violence. It is thanks to the bravery of survivors like Nathaly who have spoken out that this much needed law passed.

Read the speech that Nathaly delivered at the press conference before the vote:

“My name is Nathaly and this is my story. My ex boyfriend of almost ten years ago recorded me behind my back while we were having sex. I had no idea I was being recorded and throughout all these years I didn’t know he had the recording. Almost ten years later he began to stalk, harass, and threaten me all because I did not want to talk to him.

During this time I was in a beauty pageant. He knew about my running in the pageant and wanted to make sure I would never have chance at winning. So he posted the video that he recorded of me on pornography websites with information about me so people would know who the girl is in the video. Even though the video didn’t have my face in it, to know that my body could be seen by just anyone was absolutely terrifying. I felt extremely embarrassed, violated, scared, hurt, and at that point I no longer wanted to live. This was one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. I couldn’t eat, sleep, go to work, I couldn’t even search the web in fear that I just might see something of myself on the internet. This affected me so greatly that it literally immobilized me from having a normal happy life. I no longer believed in myself nor in my dreams.

As I stand her today I want to speak for everyone out there who has experienced or is currently experiencing something similar. I want you to know that you are not alone! You can be strong and brave and with the help of programs like Sanctuary for Families, you can get through this! Don’t blame yourself – this is not your fault! Please continue to fight. Don’t allow this to define you. You are great. Never stop believing in yourself, continue to reach for your dreams!

With all this being said, I believe the law needs to be changed. Recording somebody in a sexual state and posting it on pornography websites without their consent should be illegal! This can greatly help people who are victims from this horrific abuse.”

Will you help us break the cycle of domestic violence?

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Get involved and help us break the cycle of violence!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) and this year, we’re asking you to join our effort in breaking the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence.

Across the U.S. an estimated 15.5 million children are living in families where domestic violence was perpetrated in the last year. As witnesses and survivors of domestic violence themselves, many children bear acute trauma well into adulthood thus putting them at grave risk of repeating patterns of violence themselves both as abusers and as victims.

Over the course of the month of October, we’ll share over social media four ways you can help break the cycle of violence. If you aren’t already, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates on our campaign.

In the meantime, here are a few ways you can take action:

Attend an event – show your solidarity and support survivors.

Volunteer with us – share your skills with survivors.

Donate to Sanctuary – support our lifesaving services.

Share on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter – raise awareness about domestic violence.

Wear purple on October 19th – Purple is the color of DVAM. Use it as a way to talk to others about why ending domestic violence is important to you.

Domestic violence is not just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue and in order to break the cycle of violence, we ALL must step up and speak out. I hope you will join us.

WilmerHale Team Reunites Mother and Children in International Abduction Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of WilmerHale attorneys for their brilliant and dedicated advocacy on behalf of Rosa, whose worst nightmare was realized when her abusive husband abducted their two young girls and held them in Egypt for two unbearable years.

Camille is a Summer Law Clerk at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and is currently enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of WilmerHale attorneys for their brilliant and dedicated advocacy on behalf of Rosa, whose worst nightmare was realized when her abusive husband abducted their two young girls and held them in Egypt for two unbearable years. The WilmerHale team worked tirelessly and overcame many obstacles to help Rosa reunite with her daughters.

This stellar team included partners Sanket Bulsara (currently at the SEC) and Sharon Cohen Levin, counsels Todd Blanche and Adriel Cepeda Derieux, senior associates Matthew Galeotti, Musetta Durkee, and Hanna Baek (currently at the NY Attorney General’s Office), associates David Yin, William Roth, Josh Vittor (formerly of WilmerHale), and Margaret Artz, and paralegals Vilmarie Alcaraz and Lauren Kennedy.

An International Nightmare

Between 2009 and 2013 Rosa and her two daughters alternately lived between Rosa’s native Mexico and New York City, where her husband John, a Legal Permanent Resident who later naturalized, lived.  In 2013, Rosa’s husband encouraged her to take the girls back to Mexico for a visit, assuring her that he had applied for a green card for her and that she could return to the U.S. with no issues. This turned out to be a lie, and when Rosa arrived at JFK the next month she was denied entry. After that, Rosa and the girls lived in Mexico for over a year, with John visiting only occasionally.

In 2014, John decided to travel to his native country, Egypt, and invited Rosa and the children to join him for a vacation, imploring her that he very much wanted the children to meet their Egyptian family and pointing out that she and the children could no longer visit him in New York. Rosa bought three round-trip tickets for herself and her daughters with money John had sent her, fully expecting that they would all be returning to Mexico after this family visit.

But once Rosa and the girls were in Egypt, John confiscated their passports and return tickets, became physically abusive toward Rosa, and refused to let her leave the house unaccompanied or without his permission.  Their short vacation turned into a long nightmare, made worse when Rosa’s mother became terminally ill.  John permitted Rosa to travel back to Mexico to visit her sick mother but refused to let the children join her.  While Rosa was in Mexico, John brought the children to New York, knowing that their mother was unable to enter the United States. Despite Rosa’s desperate pleas and John’s repeated promises to bring the children to Mexico, he never did.

In April 2015, John revealed his intention to take the children to Egypt permanently, telling Rosa that if she ever wanted to see her children again, it would have to be there. Still in Mexico, Rosa knew she needed immediate legal assistance, and started making desperate phone calls to attorneys in New York.

Answering the Call to Action: A Team Assembles

Rosa’s pleading message landed in the inbox of Lisa Vara, a senior staff attorney at Sanctuary for Families.  Lisa recalls feeling “compelled to follow up further and see if there was any way Sanctuary could help.” Crucial at this point in time was the fact that the children were still in the United States—both Mexico and the United States are parties to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which provides for children to be expeditiously returned after international parental abductions.  If John followed through with his threat to send the children to Egypt, a country not party to the Hague Convention, this expeditious option would be lost and the chances of Rosa getting her children back would be grim.

Lisa and Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center, understood the urgency of the situation and immediately thought of WilmerHale, who answered the call to action and put together a top tier pro bono team in record time that very afternoon. Unfortunately, they were not the only ones moving quickly—before the team could file a Hague Convention petition or obtain an order for the children to remain in the U.S., John had sent the children to Egypt.

“We knew from that day forward, this was going to be an incredibly complicated case because Egypt is not a party to the Hague Convention,” shared Matthew Galeotti, who worked the case from start to finish.

Because John had remained in New York, the team worked to get a court order instructing him to bring the children, in person, before a family court judge in Queens. “We overcame a number of challenges in getting that order, not least of which was the fact that our client was in Mexico and unable to physically appear before the Family Court,” reflected Lisa.  But John refused to follow the court’s order and, using an Egyptian passport he had previously told the court did not exist, fled to Egypt in June 2015.  Once in Egypt, he contacted Rosa, threatened her life and cursed her, her attorneys, and the Family Court judge handling the case.

Despite these devastating developments, the team did not give up, and worked to persuade the U.S. Attorney’s Office to open an international kidnapping case and issue a warrant for John’s arrest.  They strategized constantly with Sanctuary about how to pressure John to come back and what to do once he returned, and they provided support and strength to Rosa.

“It was a difficult time to be without my daughters for two years, but I never lost hope that my children would be back in my arms sometime.  Sanctuary and WilmerHale listened to me, helped me, and were by my side every step of the way although I was in Mexico and my legal team was in New York.”   – Rosa

Finally, not knowing about the open federal warrant, John returned to New York with the children in August 2016 and was immediately arrested at JFK for International Parental Kidnapping and Conspiracy to Commit International Parental Kidnapping. With the children back on U.S. soil, the WilmerHale team was able to file a Hague Convention petition in federal court seeking the children’s return to their mother in Mexico.

Following John’s arrest, at least one member of the WilmerHale team attended every court appearance from arraignment to sentencing on Rosa’s behalf at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  The team was in close contact with the Assistant United States Attorney handling the case throughout the proceedings, and prepared and submitted a victim impact statement on Rosa’s behalf for sentencing.  Ultimately, John pled guilty to the conspiracy charge and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison with credit given for time already served and was given special conditions to his release, including not to threaten or harass Rosa and the children and to obey any family court orders.

Reunited At Last

In November 2016, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered the children’s return to Mexico, and Rosa reunited with her daughters two weeks before Christmas. After tracking the children’s flight via Flight Tracker, Matthew Galeotti finally received a photograph of Rosa with her daughters at the airport in Mexico. “It was the most touching thing I have experienced as a lawyer,” he reflected.

Lisa Vara echoed similar sentiments, commenting, “I have had many rewarding experiences over the years while working at Sanctuary for Families, but this one was truly the most moving. This extraordinary outcome could not have happened without the hard work and dedication from the WilmerHale team.  They truly went above and beyond in making this happen.”

Rosa knew that the return of her daughters “was something Sanctuary and WilmerHale worked so hard for, but it still seemed like being reunited with them would be a long way off.”  In the end, she shared, “when I hugged my daughters upon being reunited with them at the airport, it was a miracle.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the WilmerHale team’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.


Funding for the Courtroom Advocates Project is Under Threat: Why it Matters

Since its founding in 1997, Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP) has been almost entirely funded by grants under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Today, funding for this critical program is in danger. Take a stand and join the effort to protect VAWA funding.

Brenna is a J.D. at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

Ana’s Story

In July 2016, Ana arrived alone at the Bronx Family Courthouse hoping to obtain an Order of Protection against her husband. Ana’s husband had subjected her to severe physical and emotional violence during their marriage. On that day, she had a bruise on her upper arm from when her husband bit her the week before and a puncture wound from when he stabbed her with a pen. Those physical scars were in addition to the devastating trauma Ana experienced from months of repeated rapes and strangulations by her husband. She was upset, afraid, and like many victims of domestic violence, had no money to hire an attorney to help her.

Unsure of where to go or who to turn to, she eventually found a free consultant at the courthouse who introduced her to two attorneys in Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP). Ana’s fortunes were about to change.

Finding Sanctuary

Ana was assigned to a team of law student advocates who had been trained by CAP to help Ana file for and obtain a temporary Order of Protection in Family Court. Sanctuary’s CAP attorneys then took Ana’s case on for direct legal representation.

Over the course of two years, they not only helped her obtain a final Order of Protection against her husband, but also referred Ana to Sanctuary’s social workers from whom she received counseling. Today, Sanctuary continues to help Ana with her housing and immigration issues, all at no cost to her.

Since connecting with CAP and accessing Sanctuary’s holistic services, Ana has flourished. She has become more confident and is in charge of her own life, happiness, and safety. In Ana’s words,

“Had it not been for [Sanctuary], I don’t know what I would have done.”

Currently, Ana is on the path to fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, and has completed a nursing education and training program. She is now able to leave her past behind and move forward.

The Courtroom Advocates Project(CAP)

CAP trains and supervises advocates, mostly law students, who provide in-court assistance to domestic violence victims seeking orders of protection in Family Court. Since 1997, CAP has trained nearly 12,000 advocates and has helped nearly 10,000 litigants in Family Court. Victims of domestic violence often come to court alone and intimidated. CAP advocates help them tell their stories more effectively, and provide needed reassurance.

CAP advocates can also direct victims to additional resources that may help them reach safety. Like Ana, many clients first connect with Sanctuary through CAP, and then receive help from Sanctuary with additional issues such as divorce, custody, spousal and child support, housing, public benefits, counseling, job training and immigration. For these clients, CAP serves as a crucial first stepping stone in their journey from an abusive relationship to freedom.

Not only does CAP provide vital assistance to victims of domestic violence, it also trains the pro bono attorneys of the future. CAP provides law students with an introduction to family law, a chance to meet with clients, and an opportunity to learn how to be litigators. Often, CAP may be a law student’s first experience working one-on-one with a client or appearing on the record in a courtroom, which can be invaluable lessons in their development as lawyers.  It also solidifies their passion for pro bono work, and sets them on a lifetime course of helping low-income clients.

How CAP Changed Me

I participated in CAP during the summer after my second year of law school. Paired with another law student, and under the supervision of a Sanctuary CAP staff attorney, I helped a high school student obtain an Order of Protection against her ex-boyfriend, who had attacked her in school several times.

I learned valuable skills in legal writing and courtroom advocacy and, more importantly, I was able to successfully advocate for a client. The experience and her gratitude for my help left a lasting impression. I returned to Sanctuary for an externship the following spring, and I have continued my involvement while working at a law firm by serving on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and representing another Sanctuary client pro bono.

Protect the Violence Against Women Act

Today, funding for this critical program is in danger due to potential budget cuts recommended by the current federal administration. Since its founding in 1997, CAP has been almost entirely funded by grants under The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

VAWA classifies domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes and funds programs that provide life-saving services for victims, including legal and criminal justice services, counseling, housing, prevention programs, and much more. The current administration is intent on cutting the budget for the Department of Justice (among many other agencies), which could very well include cutting or eliminating VAWA grants that are funded through the Department of Justice budget—something that President Trump has indicated a willingness to do. Such action would jeopardize the future of CAP.

Without CAP, thousands of clients like Ana would be less safe, and thousands of law students would be denied the invaluable experience of advocating for vulnerable clients. In Ana’s words, “[CAP] gave me a reason to stand up and fight.”

Now, it is time to stand up and fight for the program that has helped Ana and thousands of others take their first steps toward freedom.

What You Can Do

Tell your Representatives that you want them to make a strong public statement now that they will never approve a budget that reduces VAWA funding.

  • Schedule a meeting with your Representative to discuss the importance of VAWA, or see if there are any town halls you can attend and ask them to fight for VAWA funding now.
  • Call, write/e-mail, and tweet.

Ask your networks to advocate – spread the word to your contacts and ask them to advocate on behalf of VAWA.

Organize an informal “30 minutes of activism” breakfast or lunch.

  • Use these talking points to educate attendees on the issue, explain its importance to you, and ask them all to call, tweet, email, etc. together during the 30 minutes.

Post this article on social media and send it to your contacts.

Draft Op-eds. Use your connections to get op-eds published and get the issue out there!

Together we can make sure victims like Ana have access to the lifeline that she had. Take a stand today to preserve VAWA and its critical life-saving funding.