Debevoise Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Order of Protection

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for their work securing an order of protection for “Alison,” a survivor, and her son. Read to learn more.

Alizah Charaniya is a 2L at Cornell Law School. She was a 2019 Summer Associate at Vinson and Elkins and a Summer Intern at Sanctuary for Families through V&E’s Public Interest Program.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for their work securing an order of protection for “Alison” and her son. The team consisted of Associate Lisa Wang Lachowicz and Supervising Counsel, Wendy B. Reilly.

Seeking Protection on Her Own 

In 2018, Alison courageously walked into Family Court alone to try to get an order of protection for herself and her two children against her boyfriend, with whom they were living.  Alison had previously tried to get him out of her home, but he threatened to hurt her and refused to move out.  For over two years, Alison feared for their safety because of her boyfriend’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.  Alison’s boyfriend was also using a form of abuse that has become an increasingly common tool for abusers — he was attacking her on social media with vulgar messages and threatening to distribute sexual photos and videos of her online if she reported him for his continued threats and violence.

Finding Help Through the Courtroom Advocates Project

When Alison walked into court that day, she met Debevoise attorney Lisa Wang Lachowicz, a first-year associate participating in Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP).  CAP enables law students and first-year non-admitted law firm associates to advocate for survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection.  CAP advocates meet survivors in the courthouse and help them draft same-day family offense petitions and appear in court to advocate for temporary orders of protection.  CAP advocates then have the option of assuming full representation of the client under the supervision of a Sanctuary for Families attorney.

Lisa Wang Lachowicz, Associate

Lisa and her CAP partner drafted a detailed family offense petition for Alison that day and later appeared with her before the magistrate judge, helping her secure a temporary order of protection. Lisa continued to support Alison over the next couple of months as she waited for her next court appearance, assisting her with safety planning, service of process, and other concerns.

“From the very beginning of the case, Lisa was an attentive, supportive, empathetic, and compassionate advocate.  She was incredibly supportive of Alison and was in constant communication with her from the very beginning, where there is often a lot of stress and transition and it can be a difficult time.” – Lindsey M. Song, CAP Senior Staff Attorney.

When it became clear that Alison’s abuser was going to contest the order of protection, Lisa eagerly took on a full representation and committed to working to ensure that Alison secured a strong final order that would protect Alison and her son.

Overcoming Evidentiary Challenges

Wendy B. Reilly, Supervising Counsel

Alison’s case was challenging.  Much of the abuse came in the form of psychological abuse, threats of physical harm, and threats to post sexual images online (also known as cyber sexual abuse), all of which can pose evidentiary hurdles.  In addition, at the time of the hearing, New York State did not recognize cyber sexual abuse as a family offense.

But Lisa was creative in collecting evidence to corroborate the abuse and steadfast in her arguments about why Alison needed protection.  Lisa successfully entered into evidence multiple damning text messages from Alison’s boyfriend—including texts where he threatened to distribute sexual photos of her—a police report, and bank statements showing that her abuser had used her debit card without her permission. Further, Lisa successfully prevented the abuser from introducing voluminous texts that he was going to use to muddy the record. These evidentiary wins were critical developments in in the hearing.

“It was incredibly rewarding to give Alison her day in court and encourage her to share her story.  This was the first time she had reached out to an attorney and she put a lot of trust in me.  She was scared to say what she wanted to say and nervous to see her abuser after a long time, but she stayed focused and conveyed her story to the judge.  When the judge credited her testimony, and discredited the abuser’s, it was extremely validating for her.”  – Lisa Wang Lachowicz

At the end of the hearing, the judge issued a strong final two-year order of protection for Alison and her son, who had been subject to repeated verbal abuse by Alison’s boyfriend.  The final order included a provision prohibiting Alison’s abuser from posting, distributing or threatening to post or distribute any intimate images or videos of Alison.  This was an important protection, and one that not all judges were willing to add at that time, particularly because there was no criminal penalty or family offense in New York State directly related to cyber sexual abuse.  Thankfully, that recently changed when Governor Cuomo signed a law in July 2019 making the unlawful disclosure of an intimate image a criminal and family offense in New York State.

“Lisa took on a case that otherwise would likely not have resulted in anything more than a short limited Order of Protection.  She was able to support Alison and use her legal training to get Alison what she needed – a final stay-away order for two years. Alison was very relieved and incredibly grateful for Lisa’s assistance.” – Lindsey M. Song

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor this Debevoise team’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.

New York State moves to protect survivors of cyber sexual abuse

This legislation will go a long way to help survivors like our client Nathaly pursue justice against abusive partners who seek to humiliate, harass, and coerce their victims. 

Today, landmark legislation was unanimously passed in the New York State Legislature to criminalize the non-consensual dissemination of sexually explicit images and videos, commonly known as “revenge porn” or “cyber sexual abuse.” This legislation will go a long way to help survivors like our client Nathaly pursue justice against abusive partners who seek to humiliate, harass, and coerce their victims.

When Nathaly first ran into Sanctuary staff attorney Lindsey Song at the Bronx Family Court House, she was anxious and distraught. A former boyfriend she had dated as a teenager had recently sent her a link to a porn website with a video of the two of them having sex – a video she did not know even existed. The link included her full name, where she was from, and her father’s phone number. This was in 2017, before she helped New York City pass a law criminalizing cyber sexual abuse and before any legal remedies existed for victims like herself.

Today, thanks to Nathaly’s courageous advocacy in partnership with Sanctuary and the work of Assembly Member Edward Braunstein, Senator Monica Martinez, and numerous advocates and other survivors, New York joined 42 other states that have passed legislation to protect victims of cyber sexual abuse and recognized the terrible magnitude of harm that it inflicts upon victims.

Watch Nathaly’s speech from our annual benefit last year >

At Sanctuary, we see the devastating damage that cyber sexual abuse causes its victims. Survivors are often forced to change their names and flee the state to escape the horror of having their most intimate photos go viral; others have been threatened with sexual and physical violence when their photos have been posted, and many have lost their jobs, families, or communities as a result of this abuse.

Should this legislation be signed into law, it will be a crime to share an explicit image without a person’s consent when done so with the intention of causing emotional, financial, or physical harm. In addition to criminal relief, survivors will also be able to seek justice and protection through both Family and Criminal Courts, as well as secure injunctive relief if a website refuses to take action in removing the videos or images in question.

In late 2017, Nathaly and Sanctuary helped pass New York City’s cyber sexual abuse bill which is being used every day. Today we celebrate their work and the work of others in the passage of a New York State bill which will provide many more survivors like Nathaly with the legal recourse to seek relief from the flood of online harassment that they have long been denied. We hope that the Governor will act quickly to sign this measure into law.

cyber sexual abuse; revenge porn; gender violence

What You Didn’t Know About Cyber Sexual Abuse

Cyber sexual abuse, commonly known as “revenge porn,” is often misnamed and misunderstood. Spring Communications Intern, Lauren Altus, shares five key facts everyone should know about cyber sexual abuse.


‘Revenge porn’ or ‘cyber sexual abuse’?

Cyber sexual abuse, commonly known as “revenge porn,” is often misnamed and misunderstood. In fact, it is difficult to find a simple, coherent definition for this form of abuse.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “revenge porn” is: “Revealing or sexually explicit images or videos of a person posted on the Internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the consent of the subject and in order to cause them distress or embarrassment.”

But the term “revenge porn” name misrepresents the crime for several reasons. First, it is not about revenge, and second, it is not about porn. Revenge suggests the victim did something to deserve this crime, in effect placing blame on the victim. Less a tool for revenge, cyber sexual abuse is more often used as a way to maintain control over the victim.

For example, thirty-year-old Amanda’s physically abusive husband constantly told her that if she ever tried to leave him he would share damaging photos of her with her family, friends, and even use them in attempts to gain custody. When she finally did leave, he did just that: posted photos of her—even ones taken without her knowledge—on social media. Now, Amanda lives in constant fear, wondering who might see these photos and how might it affect her and her children.

This example drives home our second issue with the term ‘revenge porn’. Porn, though this may not always be the case, is generally considered consensual. Like in Amanda’s case and in others Sanctuary has seen, the photos and videos that are shared are sometimes taken unbeknownst to the victim or are photoshopped or “spoofed” (manipulated using photo editing software or other technology). Even if the photos are taken consensually – i.e. within the context of an intimate relationship – posting these photos online without the consent (and often without the knowledge) of the victim, is a nonconsensual act. For these reasons, we must call this crime what it is: cyber sexual abuse.

Over the last few years, cyber sexual abuse has become an increasingly common form of abuse due the omnipresence of social media in our lives. It’s also one we’ve seen highlighted in the media. From Jennifer Lawrence’s computer hack to Rob Kardashian posting nude photos of Blac Chyna, these instances have revealed the dire need for both legal protections and a better societal understanding of cyber sexual abuse.

Many people are quick to assume that every photo has been taken with the consent of the victim. Others think cyber sexual abuse can be written off as a joke, or that if their state has no law against it, it is okay to post photos of this nature.

Sanctuary attorney Lindsey Song, who has represented a number of victims of cyber sexual abuse in Family Court and with criminal justice advocacy, is the co-chair of the citywide Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. Below, she helps break down some of the stigmas surrounding victims of this form of abuse and tells us the five things we may not have known about cyber sexual abuse.

1. Cyber sexual abuse is not just a millennial issue

There are many ways in which someone can become a victim of cyber sexual abuse, Song warns, and they can be anyone from a teen sexting to an eighty-year-old in a photoshopped image.

For example, thirty-five-year-old Molly did not send, or even take, a naked photo when she became a victim of cyber sexual abuse. Her ex-boyfriend photoshopped a photo of her face onto naked images he found online, and then sent those photos to people in her hometown where Molly was ostracized from her entire family and support system. She was then forced to rely on her abuser financially.

When Betty, a 60-year-old woman, broke up with her abusive boyfriend, he reacted by sending an intimate photo to multiple men who then tried to contact Betty online. The situation escalated until Betty had to quit her job as a nurse out of fear that her abuser would continue to send the photo to her coworkers. A New York police officer told her that this was her fault for sending the photo in the first place.

Some example of cyber sexual abuse include when a photo is posted online, shown to others, or disseminated, and that photo was:

  • Taken with the consent of the victim but posted without it
  • Taken without the victim knowing (i.e. the victim was sleeping or was the subject of hidden cameras)
  • Stolen from a victim’s computer or private accounts
  • An image that is doctored, where someone has put the victim’s face on someone else’s body or otherwise made the photo appear to be of the victim when it is not
  • The result of forced production of an image (i.e. drugging a victim)

The one thing each of these victims have in common? “Victim-blaming in each of these situations needs to stop, because none of those victims consented,” Song said

2. A cyber-attack never truly has an endpoint

Song tells us that cyber sexual abuse can be “life-ruining in ways you don’t expect,” as cyber sexual abuse has “no beginning and end.” This often leaves victims fearful that more and more people will gain access to the photos. Unfortunately, no matter how tirelessly the victims and their lawyers work to remove the photos from the Internet, “a cyber-attack never truly ends” as the photos may be shared across multiple sites and platforms, screenshotted by viewers, downloaded onto various devices, and the full reach of the images is never truly known.

3. Cyber sexual abuse is not necessarily just photos or videos

Cyber sexual abuse does not just mean one photo is posted and it doesn’t necessarily mean only photos or videos. Attackers can post addresses, places of business, phone numbers, and other personal information so that strangers subsequently stalk the victim, sometimes demanding sex or harassing the victim in other ways. Song says that as a victim, there is a “constant weight on your shoulders.” Some of her clients have been forced to “change their names, move from their homes, and even change their children’s names,” while others have been excommunicated from their families and communities and even attempted suicide.

4. It is not the victim’s fault

This one should go without saying, but many judge victims for “allowing” the photos to exist in the first place. As Song points out, however, if a person gives their personal financial information to an accountant so that the accountant could do their taxes and then the accountant posted that private information on the Internet, everyone would deem this unacceptable.

As a society, we understand and frequently utilize the concept of specific and selective consent. It is only in the context of sexuality and the human body that this point gets blurry. In some instances the victim doesn’t even know the photo is being taken. Many attackers also use threats such as sending photos to employers and family members in an effort to blackmail their victims. This is why Song urges us to remember “not to slut-shame, not to victim-blame, and that it is illegal to discriminate based on gender-based violence, which is what this is.”

5. The fear never goes away

A victim can obtain an order of protection to prevent dissemination and can report the crime to law enforcement. Victims can also contact websites directly to have nonconsensual pictures and videos taken down. Still, victims often carry around the fear of another post or another e-mail going up worrying and waiting for another attack.

For instance, when Celia decided to enter a beauty competition, her abusive ex-boyfriend decided to post videos of her engaged in sexual acts—taken without her knowledge or consent—onto pornography websites. He said that he did this in order to “make sure she never lived a normal life ever again.” It worked. Now, Celia is terrified to live her regular life, constantly in fear of what could happen if she upsets her abuser. Even though she was able to flee the relationship, her abuser continues to control her life, and will continue to do so until the law is changed to punish him for this horrific abuse.

[UPDATE] In late 2017, Survivor Leader Nathaly and Sanctuary helped pass New York City’s cyber sexual abuse bill, which is being used every day. Today we proudly celebrate our work and the work of others in the passage of a New York State bill that provides many more survivors like Nathaly with the legal recourse to seek relief from the flood of online harassment that they have long been denied.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of cyber sexual abuse, please reach out to Sanctuary for Families for legal assistance, clinical support, and other resources.

To get involved in our advocacy around cyber sexual abuse, please email Lindsey Song at or Nicole Fidler at to join the citywide Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. 


Lauren Altus is a communications intern at Sanctuary and a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University.