You are on page 1of 14

LSJ 401

Domestic Abuse Women’s Network and the
Need for Legal Representation among
Survivors of Domestic Abuse

Ana Faoro


As gender inequality issues have come to the forefront of society, so has the realization
that domestic violence is extremely prevalence in almost all populations. Community
organizations, like the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network, have taken big steps in providing
survivors of domestic abuse survivors to help them gain independence from their abusers and
improve their lives. The legal system has made additional gains in the way of providing
survivors safety through mandatory arrest laws and the creation of protection orders tailored
specifically to domestic violence cases. However, because of the extreme societal disadvantage
that many survivors face, pursuing legal action to the fullest of its availability can be all but
impossible. Community organizations can help only so far until legal advice is needed, a service
they usually cannot provide. Survivors need to be better equipped when they turn to the legal
system for justice. The best way to ensure justice prevails for the survivors is for the legal system
to provide survivors with public attorneys to help them draft their Domestic Violence Protection
Orders and represent them in civil court.
Organizational Analysis
Purpose and Structure

The Domestic Abuse Women’s Network is an organization of network service providers
with the common goal of serving domestic violence survivors. DAWN’s mission is to support
efforts in their community to end domestic violence. To do this, DAWN provides selfempowerment informed services to survivors, both women and men, to enable them to make safe
and informed decisions and to raise awareness of domestic violence in the community. This self-


empowerment model takes place in DAWN’s two arenas of service: the shelter programs and the
community advocacy programs.
DAWN’s temporary, confidential shelter gives survivors and their families a place to live
once they have fled their abuser before they find a home of their own. Like all shelters in the
area, their shelter struggles with capacity issues and many survivors must be turned away.
However, all survivors that do make their way through the doors, are guided through the process
of self-empowerment and are provided services for finding a permanent or transitional home.
Community advocacy programs help clients through the safety planning, mental health,
and legal aspects of leaving their abusers. The services are coordinated with an initial intake
procedure through DAWN’s crisis line. The survivor’s information and requests are gathered and
an analysis of their needs made. The intake coordinator then refers the person to the services and
member organizations and divisions that can meet those needs.
Internship Contribution

The community advocacy’s services include different programs for survivors including
mental health services, economic justice advocacy, programs for children and teens, support
groups, and legal advocacy. Legal advocacy takes the form of advocacy for immigrant survivors
of abuse, non-lawyer legal advocates, and an on-site lawyer provided by Eastside Legal
Assistance Program (ELAP). Each advocate on the legal team plays a different role in order to
best meet the needs of the survivors. Clients without status work through the legal system with
the immigration advocate; clients still in the process of safety planning work with the legal
advocates; clients drafting parenting plans or in the initial stages of separation generally work


with the ELAP lawyer. My work was with the service subset of DAWN and entailed updating
their resources, participating in team meetings, and training to become a direct advocate in order
to work directly with clients. Additionally, I also went on court accompaniments with a legal
advocate and his clients during which I gather my data for this internship.
Client Need
Clients of DAWN can be anyone from any walk of life who is a survivor of domestic
abuse and calls for help. The bulk of clients are women because of the nature, and I presume, the
name, of the organization. While a majority of domestic violence survivors are female, recent
estimates state that around thirty to forty percent of survivors are men. And with a recent societal
push towards expanding traditional gender roles and agencies proclaiming that men can be
victims as well, there has been an increase in the number of male clients at DAWN. Because of
its location and the immigration legal services DAWN offers, many clients are Spanish speaking.
As a result, DAWN offers a weekly Spanish support group for survivors in addition to its English
support group as well as Spanish speaking advocates and translation services.
For the legal team, clients more specifically are survivors who are pursuing a protection
order or legal action against their abuser and need help navigating the legal system. Most
commonly, these clients either need help adjusting their immigration status, gaining protection
from their abuser through some type of protection order, filing for separation or divorce, or
creating a parenting plan. The specific services provided include legal advice, attorney services,
assistance with documents, court accompaniments, and referrals to outside legal services.
Organizational Goals


Domestic violence in our society is a systemically unjust social construct as it relies on a
power imbalance. The survivors of domestic violence are marginalized persons, largely without
access to legal, financial, and social services on their own. They may further be discouraged to
seek such assistance, fearing for their safety, financial security, or other loss. The legal system is
overwhelming in scope and the language and documentary requirements alienating to an
individual who has no prior legal experience. The society from which the abused is alienated is a
daunting place to find assistance in order to gain an equal ability to live safely and with equal
access to opportunity. DAWN seeks to overcome the barriers of personal security, basic needs,
financial concerns, legal resources, and access to counseling and guidance. This helps even the
societal playing field for the survivor. This can then allow the survivor to move forward.
DAWN self-empowerment model aims to help survivors make their own decisions about
their lives, the avenues they wish to pursue, and the future for themselves and their children. For
the legal team in particular, this takes the form of giving survivors knowledge about the legal
system and the options they have and guiding them through the process so they can live safer
lives away from their abusers.
Organizational Relationships

DAWN is just one of many domestic violence advocacy organizations in the area. Some
advocates at DAWN are members of the Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence
(WSCADV) and the King County Coalition against Domestic Violence (KCCADV). These are
associations of advocates from all the organizations in the area. Each organization follows a
different model in order to help survivors with some offering a range of different services, some


specializing in one service, and others employing models different from DAWN’s selfempowerment model. While all the organizations have similar goals, to help survivors and
ultimately end domestic violence, many of the methods of the varying organizations are
contradictory. Survivors working with or moving between two organizations could potentially
become frustrated with the differing methods. For example, DAWN’s self-empowerment policy
usually deems that advocates not call clients after a missed appointment – it is up to the client to
call and reschedule if he or she so chooses. Other organizations feel that it is best to help the
client as much as possible through his or her entire process through the organization. This means
appointment reminders, calling the client to reschedule, and making decisions for the client when
the client feels unable to make decisions for him or herself. The opposing ideologies can make an
already daunting process for survivors even more complicated and survivors may have to work
to find an organization that fits their needs and service expectations.
DAWN service providers also interact with the domestic violence court advocates, who
are employees of the County Prosecutor’s Office, at the courthouse through the Domestic
Violence Protection Order (DVPO) process. The court advocates review the survivor’s statement
prior to the hearing before the commissioner and walk them through the post-hearing process,
but cannot offer legal advice. If the survivor is also a client of DAWN’s, then this process is done
in conjunction with one of DAWN’s legal advocates. Court advocates meet the client for the first
time immediately before the hearing, and, therefore, have little knowledge about the client’s
wants, needs, and situation. However, because they also have their own ideology on how to best
serve their clients, court advocates have recently begun insisting that every client they see be
referred to DAWN’s on-site ELAP lawyer. While not malicious, these acts are a bit misguided.
DAWN’s on-site lawyer can only take on cases of a certain type, usually parenting plans or


uncontested separations or divorces, and, therefore, cannot help every referred person with their
legal needs. The court advocates actions speak towards a greater need within the system for
domestic abuse survivors – the need for a broader range of legal assistance provided to domestic
violence sufferers and survivors.
Like court advocates, DAWN’s legal advocates cannot give legal advice. The legal
advocates can lay out options and explain the legal system to the client, but the client must make
all of his or her decisions on his or her own. Many survivors also do not have the funds to hire
legal help. Though not formally recognized under law as an aspect of domestic abuse, hiding,
hoarding, and restricting finances is one way many abusers keep their partners from fleeing an
abusive environment. If survivors do leave, they often have no savings or viable income for legal
services and, therefore, have a difficult time pursuing legal action. This can include pursuing
even the most basic legal protection action they can achieve – a DVPO. Survivors are left to
navigate the legal system alone and without proper representation, while their abusers often have
hired legal representation at their DVPO hearing.
Issue Analysis
There are four different types of protections orders in Washington State. DVPOs are most
commonly, though not exclusively, used by survivors. Because of the narrow focus of these
orders on the physical safety of the endangered persons, they do not provide the additional
protection and access to resources needed by a domestic violence survivor. While DVPOs can
provide survivors with protection that they previously did not have, many survivors’ lack the
legal knowledge and the funds to hire legal professionals who would help them truly take full


advantage of that protection. There is a need for legal services to assist survivors in executing the
terms of the DVPO.
DVPOs occupy a unique space in the legal system. They take place as part of civil court
despite the fact that the respondent, the abuser, has often times committed criminal acts of
domestic violence. However, facts found during the protection order hearing could be used in
future or concurring criminal proceedings against the abuser if there are any charges pressed.
Protection orders provide protection to the survivor from the abuser by deeming the abuser
subject to legal penalties if that person should communicate with or occupy the same space as the
survivor. Failure to comply with the court’s verdict puts the abuser in contempt of the court for
which he could face criminal charges. For this to occur, however, the survivor must report the
unlawful actions to the court. Petitioners, who are generally the survivors, must articulate their
past abuse and safety concerns orally and via written documentation, often with no legal advice
beforehand, and can misinterpret what the documentation is asking for or what the commissioner
asks, thereby affecting the outcome of the hearing. Because of safety concerns or inability to use
the legal system due to abuse, survivors can sometimes be accused of being the abuser and
therefore become the respondent in a DVPO case. Additionally, DVPOs are temporary with the
length at the commissioner’s discretion, and must be renewed if protection is to be continuously
mandated. If there is no more proof of imminent harm, the renewal request may be denied or the
petitioner may forget to renew. Due to its civil nature, neither the petitioner nor the defendant are
granted a public attorney to represent them. And with most community organizations helping
domestic violence survivors only by providing legal advocacy, not legal advice or services, and
pro- or low-bono attorneys generally not assisting with civil cases, survivors who lack the funds
to hire a private attorney are left to make their legal decisions regarding their DVPOs without the


proper legal assistance. This hole in the legal system leaves survivors especially vulnerable and
in danger from their abusers despite the legal and community resources already available to
Reporting Misconduct
One problem that survivors encounter when they lack legal representation through the
DVPO process is that they are unaware on how to report protection order misconduct.
Sometimes, if the respondent does not contest the order, the commissioners do not even review
that part of the process. The petitioners can therefore fall back into a pattern of abuse without
seeing a viable way out. In Keilitz et al.’s study of domestic violence survivors seeking
protection orders, survivors initially report high levels of improvement in the quality of life and
reductions in abusive conduct. While six months after the protection order was put in place a
higher number of participants felt their quality of life had been improved, there was a sharp
increase in the instances of abuse during the follow up interview. Abusers violated their orders
via telephone calls, visiting the home of the survivor, and sometimes even stalking the survivor.
However, for the majority of the study participants, their protection order worked to their
advantage and they did not encounter any problems up to six months after the order was put in
The outcome of their study slightly contradicts what I have seen at DAWN. While many
survivors do not experience any further abuse from their abusers or know how and are not afraid
to report protection order misconduct by their abusers to the courts, there are many others who
are afraid due to their past abuse and lack the knowledge on how to do so because they do not
have the resources to guide them through the process. Legal advocates at DAWN have to


continuously remind some of their clients that their DVPO is just a piece of paper if they do not
make sure that the respondent follows its guidelines and get it renewed.

Understanding the Legal System
Another barrier survivors face when they lack legal representation before and at their
DVPO hearings is misunderstanding the legal system and documents. For example, one DAWN
client misinterpreted her protection order documents and the commissioner’s question regarding
the respondent’s weapons. The petitioner, DAWN’s client, did not notice a box that could be
checked if the petitioner had reason to fear from the abuser’s weapons. If the box is checked and
the commissioner finds reason, then the abuser will be asked to turn in his weapons. This can
take the form of surrendering them to the local police department or putting them in the care of a
friend. While an unreliable method to ensure the abuser does not have access to his or her
weapons, abusers found with their weapons will be found in contempt of the court. When the
commissioner asked the petitioner about the unchecked box, she was unsure with what was being
asked and stated that everything in her document was how she wanted it to be. The abuser was
then allowed to keep his weapons and the survivor continued to fear for her life. After the
hearing, the women claimed that she was unaware of what she was agreeing to. If she had legal
representation, like her abuser could afford to and did have, then the likelihood that the abuser
would have been allowed to keep his weapons would have been, I presume, much lower.


This women is not alone in her misunderstanding of the DVPO process. Many
petitioners’ statements lack the inclusion of facts and evidence that commissioners base their
decisions off of.
The most crippling of all problems that survivors must face at their DVPO hearing,
especially when they lack legal representation, is the fear of facing their abuser for often the first
time. Broll’s study of fear of crime in women found that women have greater levels of fear of
crime than men because they are more likely the targets of intimate partner abuser. Those who
have been the victim of physical and emotional abuse, especially by an intimate partner, have
even greater levels of fear and revictimization. This fear is often tangible in survivors and clients
at DAWN, and is heightened when in the presence of the abuser in the courtroom. I have seen a
case where the fear was so debilitating that the petitioner could not respond to the
commissioner’s question. Other survivors have a hard time focusing and reviewing what they are
going to say to the commissioner when they know they are in the presence of their abuser. While
survivors would still have fear, with legal representation the survivor would not need to speak to
the commission or be able to articulate what happened to him or herself in a courtroom full of
people. He or she would have a lawyer to speak on his or her behalf, eliminating another barrier
survivors have on their way towards safety and freedom from their abuser.
Problems with Legal Representation for DVPO Hearings
Providing petitioners at DVPO hearings with public attorneys would lend itself to some
legally moral and circumstantial problems. First, providing one side of a civil case and not the


other with a public attorney could be considered legally unfair. Respondents, even if they are
abusers and should not be in the presence of the petitioner, have a right to justice. Secondly,
sometimes survivors can be fingered as the abuser. When abusers have greater knowledge of the
legal system or limit the survivors’ access to resources, he or she can use the system to his or her
advantage and claim themselves the victim of the situation. Then, in these cases, the public
would be providing an attorney to an abuser unknowingly.

The DVPO is a tool. It may be that this DVPO tool, itself, offers a measure of comfort
and the perception of security to the survivors. The element of having this tool may, in some
measure equalize the power imbalance in the relationship. Essentially, a survivor has the backing
of the legal system if they choose to access this protection.
Survivors would be better able to access this protection, tell their stories, and receive a
just and equitable outcome if they had legal representation and advice. Protection order hearings
are commonly the first interaction survivors have with the legal system, and without an advocate,
survivors do not know how to fill out forms or speak to the commissioner in a way that best
serves their needs. Today, there are some services available to survivors through the existing
legal system, like court advocates, and community organizations, like DAWN, but not enough to
amount to equitable legal representation. There is a need in the community for an organization
where survivors can receive legal advice that extends to protection hearings and related legal
needs. Original safety provided by the DVPO can diminish (Keilitz et al.). Legal processes and
documentation can be misunderstood and therefore ineffective. Survivors can be named the


abuser and lack resources to help the courts find the truth. Fear can overcome survivors and
leave them with the inability to speak on their own behalf effectively (Broll). If DVPOs are to be
effective and protect survivors of abuser, survivors need to be appointed public legal


Works Cited
Broll, Ryan. "“Criminals Are Inside of Our Homes”: Intimate Partner Violence and Fear of
Crime1." CJCCJ Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice/La Revue
Canadienne De Criminologie Et De Justice Pénale 56.1 (2014): 1-22. Print.
Keilitz, Susan L., Paula Hannaford-Agor, Hillery S. Efkeman, National Center for State Courts.,
and National Institute of Justice (U.S.). "Civil Protection Orders the Benefits and
Limitations for Victims of Domestic Violence." Civil Protection Orders the Benefits and
Limitations for Victims of Domestic Violence. 1997. Web.