Rachel Hauser is the Manager of Institutional Giving at Kaufman Music Center where she supports the Center’s educational and artistic programming through grant proposals and in-person solicitations. She is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in violin and viola performance. She is also the daughter of a Simpson Thacher & Bartlett alumna.
At this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett attorneys for their pro bono work collecting invaluable personal testimony from survivors of domestic violence.
These accounts demonstrate firsthand the vital role played by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in protecting survivors of domestic violence. Former Associate Elizabeth Wilkerson, along with Rui Xie and Staci Cox (then Summer Associates and now Associates), guided by Pro Bono Counsel and Director Harlene Katzman, Pro Bono Manager Susan Cordaro, and Pro Bono Coordinator Maria Gonzalez, interviewed 15 women who, with the assistance of pro bono legal services, had utilized provisions available under VAWA to escape their abusers, obtain legal immigration status, and transition to successful and empowered lives.
Establishing the impact of VAWA on Survivors of Domestic Violence
The passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 marked the first comprehensive federal legislative package designed to end violence against women, improve criminal justice responses to domestic violence, and increase the availability of services to its survivors. Since first enacted, the bill has been reauthorized four times—with bi-partisan support, and despite vocal opposition from some members of Congress.
As VAWA comes up for reauthorization again this year, and as the current political climate threatens the future of many individuals protected by VAWA, Simpson Thacher’s pro bono team eagerly volunteered to gather personal accounts from survivors of domestic violence whose stories might help others understand the value of the life-saving provisions within VAWA.
The project began with personal meetings between the Simpson Thacher team and each of the 15 project participants, the majority of whom had been served by Sanctuary for Families through its legal services program. The women came forward to share their experiences, and the Simpson Thacher team went to great lengths to ensure their safety, comfort, and trust throughout the interview process. The Simpson Thacher attorneys all noted the incredible strength and bravery shown by each woman in her willingness to recap her most traumatic life events in order to increase awareness of the benefits of VAWA and protect others still seeking help.
All 15 women were able to utilize the provisions set by VAWA to obtain legal immigration status (if necessary), stay united with their families, and seek better emotional and economic futures. Thus, as the Pro Bono team recorded these difficult accounts of trauma and terror, they also heard extraordinary stories of subsequent transformation and empowerment celebrated by the women, obtained after they achieved justice and independence from their abusers.
Survivors of Domestic Abuse are not the only Individuals Impacted by VAWA
Equally important to the legal, economic and emotional independence described in the women’s accounts of their decision to come forward and report the violence that had been perpetrated against them was an understanding that VAWA allowed them to speak up in the first place, and to cooperate and assist law enforcement. Successful law enforcement efforts depend on the authorities’ ability to access and connect with those our laws are intended to serve.
In the interviews, the Simpson Thacher team was able to collect specific examples of how VAWA enabled survivors to confidently assist law enforcement officials in bringing their abusers to justice and ensuring that they could no longer prey on others. As one of the survivors said in her interview:
“VAWA empowered me to cooperate with the prosecution of my abuser without fear, care for my children, and live the American dream by starting a business that employs 70 people today.”
An Empowered Community
In addition to meeting with the women individually, Simpson Thacher also hosted two events—at the outset and conclusion of the project—to allow all of the participants to know that they were not alone in their experiences. At those two breakfast meetings, the women shared their personal stories and accomplishments, and offered encouragement, understanding, and support to each other. Through this shared experience, they were able to connect the importance of VAWA to others in addition to themselves, and were eager to become engaged in the collective work being done to reauthorize the law.
The entire Simpson Thacher team agreed that working with these women strongly reinforced their understanding of the importance of pro bono representation to obtain relief for domestic violence victims, and the need to continue the protections that allowed these women to live free from violence and manipulation. The attorneys were also reminded of the fact that the simple action of taking a pro bono call can make a life-changing difference in the life of another person, and give them the pathway to establishing independence and achieving her dreams.
The important storytelling work done by the Simpson Thacher team has made one thing clear: the protections of VAWA are critical to helping victims of domestic violence break free from the cycle of violence and transform their lives. VAWA provides the tools that law enforcement, organizations like Sanctuary for Families, and legal teams like that at Simpson Thacher who represent individuals pro bono can access to help protect and empower survivors. In the words of another survivor interview by Simpson:
“VAWA allowed me and my daughter to reimagine our lives, free from violence, and to rewrite our future, not as victims but as productive members of society.”
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Simpson Thacher’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.