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.


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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.

Resources

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.

Depp v. Heard Trial: Media Coverage

A collection of powerful articles that elevate survivors’ voices and discuss the severity and long-term implications of the Depp v. Heard trial and its verdict.

Watching the Depp v. Heard trial turn into a spectacle of misogyny has been demoralizing and triggering for many of us, especially for survivors of gender violence.

Whatever the facts, we know that there was a concerted effort to use this trial as a means to discredit the #MeToo movement, minimize the severity of violence against women and girls, and force survivors back into silence.

To counter the aggressive levels of misinformation that have, sadly, shaped public discourse, we wanted to share a collection of powerful articles that elevate survivors’ voices and discuss the severity and long-term implications of the trial and its verdict.

The New Yorker | The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Verdict Is Chilling

Many victims of domestic violence who watched this trial will likely conclude that, if they share their experiences, they will be disbelieved, shamed, and ostracized. [READ MORE]

The Cut | How Did Johnny Depp Become the Good Guy?

Depp v. Heard put the actor’s misogyny on full display. For his fans, he still walked away the hero. [READ MORE]

VICE | The Daily Wire Spent Thousands of Dollars Promoting Anti-Amber Heard Propaganda

The conservative media outlet ran Facebook and Instagram ads for stories backing Johnny Depp, an investigation by media non-profit the Citizens for VICE World News found. [READ MORE]

The Cut | The Inescapable Horror of Depp v. Heard

The Depp v. Heard trial has revealed a collective lack of empathy for survivors and an ignorance of the very real effects that public discussion of abuse has on some people who’ve lived through it. [READ MORE]

TIME | Depp v. Heard Reminds Us That the Legal System Is Still Stacked Against Survivors

Online, Depp’s supporters are rejoicing, insisting that his victory serves as proof that the #MeToo movement went too far. But the verdict is actually proof the #MeToo movement hasn’t gone far enough. [READ MORE]

TIME | The Depp-Heard Trial Perpetuates the Myth of the Perfect Victim

Perpetuating the “perfect victim” myth will have long-term consequences. Already, women are expressing trepidation about coming forward with allegations of abuse following the Heard-Depp trial. [READ MORE]

NBC News | Johnny Depp’s Amber Heard trial verdict will have a devastating chilling effect

As a Black woman, survivor of domestic abuse and writer who has penned work detailing my abuse, I will be haunted by this verdict and its implications for years to come. [READ MORE]

19th News | Johnny Depp trial unlocks new way for abusers to exert power over survivors, experts worry

Experts say that the amount of attention on this trial is offering abusers a look at a whole new way of potentially exerting power over a survivor. [READ MORE]

USA Today | What the Amber Heard, Johnny Depp trial didn’t cover: The violence bisexual women face

Heard’s sexuality was not an explicit part of the trial, and while experts say they were glad to see that her bisexuality wasn’t used against her, they wished coverage could have done more to address the ways in which a person’s sexual identity can contribute to vulnerability. [READ MORE]

The New York Times | Amber Heard: I ‘Stand by Every Word’ of Testimony in Defamation Trial

In her first public interview since losing a defamation case brought against her by Johnny Depp, her ex-husband, Ms. Heard said she had told the truth when she accused him of abuse. [READ MORE]

The Daily Beast | Unsealed Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard Court Documents Reveal Shocking New Claims

More than 6,000 pages of docs were unsealed in the Depp v. Heard defamation saga, including Heard’s worry that Depp would use her nude pics and the exclusion of Marilyn Manson. [READ MORE]

Vulture | Could Amber Heard Win Her Appeal Against Johnny Depp?

For Heard, an appeal reflects her insistence that her allegations of abuse are true. An appeal also provides an opportunity for Heard’s case to be argued more thoroughly on First Amendment grounds. [READ MORE]

 

Amber Heard photo modified from author gdcgraphics. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Johnny Depp photo modified from author Harald Krichel. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. 

Access to Abortion — A Lifeline for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Intimate partner violence and pregnancy are highly correlated — which is why abortion bans are so devastating for survivors of abuse.

In light of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, it is vital to bring awareness to the correlation between intimate partner violence (IPV) and pregnancy — and highlight the devastating consequences of restricting access to safe and legal abortion for survivors.

In the US, homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women, and 1 in 6 survivors are first abused during pregnancy. More than 320,000 pregnant women are abused by their partners each year, and as a result, they have a 37% higher risk of developing obstetric complications

Too often, violence and pregnancy go hand in hand — unplanned pregnancies increase the risk for violence, and violence increases the risk for unplanned pregnancies. One study found that a woman’s odds of experiencing IPV rose by 10% with each pregnancy

It is important to note that pregnancy is not always consensual. 10.3 million women have had a partner who tried to get them pregnant against their will or refused to wear a condom, and 2.1 million have become pregnant due to rape by an intimate partner. 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

This is called reproductive coercion — an abuser’s attempt to control their partner’s reproductive health. The abuser may engage in reproductive coercion as a means to maintain control and power in the relationship, and it can manifest in behaviors such as:

  • Interfering with or manipulating birth control methods, such as withholding a partner’s birth control pills or intentionally breaking/removing condoms during sex
  • Forcing a partner to get pregnant, carry a pregnancy to term, or terminate a pregnancy against their will
  • Coercing a partner to have unprotected sex

Lack of reproductive autonomy further tethers victims to their abusers, making it harder than it already is to leave an abusive relationship — for instance, a victim may stay with their abuser if they are the only means of financial support for the child. 

Access to safe and legal abortion is imperative in putting an end to reproductive coercion and IPV. Between 6% to 22% of women terminate their pregnancies because they are in an abusive relationship, and 34% of survivors report that their abusive partners limited their childbearing decision.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade will make obtaining abortion care difficult for those whose abusive partners control their decision-making, finances, and daily lives. It will disproportionately affect women of color, who also experience higher rates of IPV, and maternal and infant mortality, and are more likely to die from unsafe, illegal abortions. 

Reproductive autonomy is a lifeline — a chance to break free from a cycle of violence. A society that supports the right to choose means a society with less violence and more empathy and resources for survivors.