Alston & Bird attorney’s support and advocacy on behalf of domestic violence survivor enables client to find peace and safety

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring an attorney from Alston & Bird for her pro bono work in support of Maya, a survivor of domestic violence. Read to learn more.

Louisa Irving is a Co-Chair of the PBC.

Sometimes a victory isn’t just about a win in court, it is about supporting your client and giving them the tools and encouragement they need to make the decision that is best for them.  In Maya’s case, victory was having the strength to withdraw her order of protection petition against her abuser so that she could move forward with her life and free herself from a long and re-traumatizing family court experience.  Maya was empowered in making this decision by the compassionate and persistent advocacy of Elizabeth (Liz) Buckel, Senior Associate at Alston & Bird LLP and recipient of a 2018 Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Award

Extreme Abuse

For years, Maya suffered extreme physical and verbal abuse by her boyfriend Ray.  In addition to punching, shoving, and pulling Maya’s arm out of its socket, Ray repeatedly flipped the couch while Maya was laying down, causing her to sustain successive head injuries that eventually led to seizures.  One night in 2015, Ray became extremely violent again and Maya fled to her office to sleep because it had 24 hour security.  That night, Ray repeatedly called her and left multiple abusive and threatening voicemails. Fearing for her life, Maya filed a complaint with the police.  Criminal charges were brought against the abuser, resulting in a guilty plea and settlement that included a two year criminal order of protection.

Still terrified of Ray, Maya hoped for a longer order of protection from Family Court—given the extensive abuse and the physical injuries, Maya was likely entitled to a five-year civil order of protection.  Thankfully, Liz volunteered to represent Maya and, under the supervision of Betsy Tsai, Director of Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocate’s Project, assist with her petition for a civil order of protection from Staten Island Family Court.  In early 2016, Liz filed a detailed petition and the case was set for trial.

Trial Delays Lead to More Pain

Over the next two years, the trial inched painstakingly forward in 10 to 15 minute increments.  Although an appearance would be scheduled for a time certain, Liz, Maya, and Betsy would wait for hours in the small Family Court waiting room, only to be called in and informed that their hour-long time slot had been reduced to mere minutes before the Judge.  For each court appearance, Maya had to take a full day off of work, mentally prepare herself to confront Ray both in the tiny waiting room and in the courtroom, and recount the details of the violence she endured.

Maya struggled with understandable anger and anxiety as she processed the trauma of her years of abuse, making each court appearance and the days leading up to that appearance incredibly difficult.  Sensitive to Maya’s emotional state and the impact that it was having on her life and her ability to testify, Liz referred Maya to counseling services at Sanctuary for Families.  Liz also served as a comfort to Maya, calmly reassuring her in the days before and after each appearance. According to Betsy,

“[Maya] felt totally understood and empowered, due in large part to Liz’s consistency and understanding approach.  She was always there for the client, and the client knew that.”

In addition to providing Maya the support she needed, Liz was a skilled and fierce advocate for her client.  Liz fought hard to end the constant trial delays that were taking such a toll on Maya.  She filed a creative motion for judgment as a matter of law seeking to have the abuser’s plea in criminal court recognized as an admission to a family offense.

The motion was denied and the trial dragged on. Recognizing the harm this was doing to her client, Liz attempted to settle the case, but the abuser refused.  In the meantime, over the course of several court appearances, Liz conducted a powerful direct examination of Maya that included playing aloud, over opposing counsel’s objections, the terrifying voicemails left on that December night when Maya fled her home.  She also elicited detailed testimony about the numerous incidents of abuse.

Finding Peace

After Maya’s examination was complete, the case faced yet another delay.  Opposing counsel announced that he needed to withdraw from the case and Ray retained new counsel, who decided to move for a mistrial after noting that the transcripts from the proceedings indicated some “inaudible” testimony.  Liz filed a strong response opposing the motion for mistrial, but despite the fact that the inaudible pieces of testimony were minimal, the court messaged to the parties that it was inclined to declare a mistrial.

After more than 2 years of seeking relief from the Family Court, Maya was faced with a difficult choice: begin this painful process again at square one or withdraw her case.  In light of the active criminal order of protection, the toll that the trial was taking on Maya, and the inevitable stress of starting all over again, Liz worked very closely with Maya so that she could understand and weigh her options.  Maya ultimately determined that she did not want to proceed with her case.

Because Liz invested so much time and energy in developing a relationship with Maya, tuning into her needs and wishes, and building trust, she was able to support Maya through the court proceedings and the decision to withdraw her case. According to Betsy,

“Liz had the perfect balance of both, litigating the case at a very high level, while also understanding the dynamics of domestic violence in a way that enabled the client to trust her and rely on her for years.”  In her nomination of Liz for this Above & Beyond award, Betsy wrote: “The legal work, which was excellent, is not why I think Liz deserves this award.  She was committed to this case and to this client in a way that was remarkable.”

Reflecting on her experience, Liz says that on a professional level, working on Maya’s case taught her how to be a trial attorney in family court. On a personal level, working on Maya’s case was a real eye opener to the ways the judicial process can wear down a victim.  But according to Liz, when she and Maya rode the ferry after that final court appearance, she “never saw her look so happy and free.”

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 Liz Buckel’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.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month Events 2018

Support survivors of domestic violence this month by attending one of our many events.

Support survivors of domestic violence and related forms of gender-based violence by attending one of the many events Sanctuary hosts, co-hosts and supports every October.

Friday, October 5th

Korean American Family Service Center’s (KAFSC) Silent March – march with KAFSC and Sanctuary at KAFSC’s 21st Annual Silent March.

Meet at 5:00 PM – March begins at 5:30 PM
Meet at 109th Precinct – 37-05 Union Street, Flushing
March will conclude at the Queens Library

Friday, October 12th and Saturday, October 13th

Cracks of Light, part of Gibney Dance and Sanctuary for Families’ annual observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, bears witness to survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence in a series of performance works created during the journey from struggle to survival. We are so proud that the evening includes a piece by Sanctuary Survivor Leaders created in collaboration with members of Gibney Dance Company.

8:00 PM – 9:30 PM
280 Broadway (entrance at 53A Chambers Street)
Buy Tickets >

Saturday, October 13th

Women’s Building Block Party – Stop by Sanctuary’s table at the third annual community block party. Bringing together local residents, fellow organizations, activists, business leaders, and community members, this event celebrates girls and women everywhere while showcasing the effort to transform Bayview Correctional Facility into The Women’s Building.

12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
West 20th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue
Learn more >

Saturday, October 13th

The V March: Voices, Victories & Vitality – Join Sanctuary and the New York Coalition to End Female Genital Mutilation as we march to raise awareness about the 65,000 women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation in New York City.

9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
March begins at City Hall Park in Manhattan
Ends at Concert Grove in Prospect Park in Brooklyn
Register Here >

Wednesday, October 17th

Lives In the Balance: Eviscerating Asylum Protection for Victims of Gender Violence – Join Sanctuary for Families, New York Immigration Coalition, and Proskauer Rose LLP for a special panel discussion featuring:

Lori Adams, Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project
Hon. Amiena Khan, Executive Vice President of the National Association of Immigration Judges
Lisa Koenig, Partner at Fragomen Worldwide
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Representative of New York’s 12th Congressional District
William Silverman, Partner at Proskauer Rose LLP

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
11 Times Square – 41st Street and 8th Avenue
Email Rcastela@proskauer.com by October 15th to RSVP
Learn more >

Thursday, October 18th

Wear Purple Day – Wear purple and post photos with the hashtags #NYCGoPurple #DVAM2018. Be sure to tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @Sanctuary for Families (Facebook).

 

Tuesday, October 30th

Barneys Fundraiser for Sanctuary – Shoppers will receive a 10% discount when they mention Sanctuary for Families at check-out. 10% of proceeds from the evening will benefit Sanctuary.

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Barneys New York – Madison and 61st Street, 4th Floor

Support Camp Hope

This summer, Sanctuary will be leading Camp HOPE America: New York. Learn how this trauma-informed camp is helping young victims of domestic violence heal and find hope again.

Bria Diemer is a Communications Intern at Sanctuary and a rising Junior at Pace University where she studies film and creative writing.

Summer camp is something we do as children because it seems fun and exciting – and because our parents want us out of the house. We swim in open waters and over-eat junk food and gossip about nothing with strangers who somehow already feel like life-long friends. Summer camp is something we need as children because it is a place to meet people and hear stories and have fun in a way only kids can. At home, there’s homework and chores and other impending childhood responsibilities. But at camp, there’s nothing to do but scream and laugh and be yourself. It’s an easy escape from the real world, from home, wherever that may be.

But for many kids, home is something to escape from. According to estimates, between 2 and 10 million children will be exposed to domestic violence each year in America. This trauma makes children more susceptible to short- and long-term emotional, social and behavioral difficulties such as increased anxiety, depression, isolation, physical and psychological aggression and a predisposition to continue the cycle of abuse. Ages 12-17 are some of the most formative years for human development, and the presence of trauma can prevent healthy, effective growth. Trauma forces children to bypass their childhood entirely, leaving no time for s’mores and rock climbing.

Camp HOPE

Every day, Sanctuary for Families works with families that have experienced violence and abuse. And while we and other service providers offer services for the entire family, adolescent kids are often an underserved group. This summer, Sanctuary is partnering with Camp HOPE America to establish Camp HOPE America: New York, which will run from August 20-24. Thirty children ages 12 to 17, (15 girls and 15 boys) will participate in a week-long camp in upstate New York. Sanctuary was asked to pilot the first Camp HOPE America affiliate serving children in the New York City metropolitan area. Over the course of the week campers will enjoy classic camp activities such as swimming, high ropes courses, nightly campfires, team building activities, a trip to a planetarium, zip lining, canoeing, art, and a talent show. And thanks to Sanctuary’s partnership with the Fresh Air Fund, the camp will take place on 2,000 acres of land including two beautiful lakes, mountain overlooks and forested trails in Fishkill, New York.

Camp HOPE America is the first camping and mentoring initiative focused on children exposed to domestic violence. Initially beginning in California, Camp HOPE has developed into a nationwide effort spanning over five states. This year, an estimated 1,500 children and young adults will benefit from all that Camp HOPE America has to offer.

Counselors at the camp have been trained to use a trauma-informed approach when working with the children. Trauma-informed care means understanding a person entirely, and taking their traumas and resulting coping mechanisms into consideration when attempting to understand certain behaviors. “We want to know what happened before this, what were the factors that led up to this? It’s important to understand the root of the issue before addressing the actual issue,” says Bridget Shanahan, co-director of the New York camp. A person’s exposure to trauma influences each area of human development— physical, mental, behavioral, social, spiritual —which is why a trauma-informed method most effectively promotes healing, growth and overall hope.

Hope is the belief that your future will be better than your past and that you have the power to achieve your dreams.  While “hope” sounds like an uncomplicated, commonplace emotion, it actually proves to be an effective source of motivation, specifically for young adults. Hope can inspire roadmaps to short- and long-term goals as well as the inspiration to overcome obstacles that arise. “This camp focuses on hope rather than resiliency because hope is something you can build. Everyone can still have hope,” Shanahan explains. Each camper is given a questionnaire before, during and after the camp in effort to gauge a hope index. These ‘Hope Scores’ are an evidenced-based measure of hope, and results show that post-camp Hope Scores are increased and are sustained over time.

Support

Childhood is a precious time that should be full of the fun and excitement, not violence and trauma. If you would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ first Camp HOPE and our youngest clients, please click here.

Attorney General Endangers Women and Children with New Restrictions to Asylum Law

Attorney General Sessions’ decision concerning Matter A-B- reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. Read our statement.

Our Statement

Sanctuary for Families stands with survivors of violence in condemning yesterday’s announcement by U.S. Attorney General Sessions to overturn Matter of A-B- — a case which he referred to himself and one in which he directed immigration judges to deny asylum to survivors of domestic violence.

That heartless decision reverses decades of asylum law and puts at tremendous risk the lives of women and children who have suffered horrendous domestic violence in their home countries. It also leaves vulnerable victims of other human rights abuses including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The United States has long been a safe haven for immigrants who have been persecuted and cannot rely on their own governments to protect them. This decision by A.G. Sessions eviscerates that safe haven, limiting the types of cases in which immigration judges can grant asylum and thereby increasing the likelihood that women, children, and others will be sent back to their persecutors.

Hon. Judy Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, stated:

“At Sanctuary for Families, too many of our clients bear the scars of unrelenting intimate partner violence that occurs in countries where no government or authorities will intervene. For many, a forced return to their nation of origin will be nothing short of a death sentence.”

Lori Adams, incoming Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, said:

“This callous move by the Attorney General threatens the lives of those seeking refuge in the United States, after having suffered tremendous violence and believing that this country would stand by its promise to protect those who cannot find safety in their own countries. It is a huge step backward for this country and an atrocious way to treat vulnerable immigrants who came here seeking our help.”

This decision was issued in the wake of other brutal immigration changes including a sharp increase in the criminal prosecution of asylum-seekers for “illegal entry” and a practice of separating mothers from their babies and young children at the U.S.-Mexico border to detain them in separate immigration jails, for the stated purpose of deterring families from making the journey north to seek protection in this country. It is cruel and inhumane to treat mothers and children as pawns in a political game.

Sanctuary for Families and other legal services and human rights organizations will continue to work together to push back against this incremental erosion of the rights of asylum-seekers to seek protection in this country. We invite you to stand with us and to fight for the rights of all survivors of gender-based violence.

Take Action

Donate to support Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Program

Call your Senators and Congressional Representatives and use the script below:

“Hi, my name is NAME, I’m from CITY, STATE, and I’m a constituent of SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME. I’m calling today to ask SENATOR / REPRESENTATIVE NAME to stand up for victims of gender violence, those escaping gang warfare, and LGBTQ+ people, and demand that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverse his decision on the Matter of A-B-. Sessions’ decision to deny asylum to those persecuted by private actors is a cruel step backwards for our country. Please speak out. Thank you.”