Domestic violence survivors found themselves in even more precarious situations this year. Financial strain is already known to increase the incidence of domestic violence, and as shelter-in-place orders were issued earlier this year, many survivors found themselves trapped at home with their abusers. With surging job losses, housing and food insecurity, and social isolation, abusers had more opportunities than ever to exert control over their victims.
Requests for help in domestic violence matters began flooding in. The District’s domestic violence hotline experienced an average of more than 50 calls per day – much higher than the normal call volume – from survivors seeking help with court orders and emergency services. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on domestic violence survivors like Maria Lopez* whose struggle to get herself and her children to safety, was hampered by the outbreak.
Petition Assistance Project
In response to the surge in domestic violence and court closures in the District, in May Legal Aid collaborated with two other domestic violence programs to begin the Petition Assistance Project, which aims to assist domestic violence survivors in filing petitions for protection and other related pleadings with the court. Through this project, Legal Aid attorneys staff a virtual courthouse project three days a week to assist domestic violence survivors with filing petitions for civil protection orders online while DC Superior Court remains closed to the public. Attorneys also assist survivors with supplementing or amending existing petitions, filing motions to extend and/or modify existing CPOs, and filing motions for contempt where abusers fail to follow an existing order. This project has allowed Legal Aid Attorneys to connect with survivors to ensure they can access the court system during these unprecedented times and to provide advice and representation where needed.
Recognizing a Domestic Violence Advocate
In October, DC SAFE honored our very own Trisha Monroe, Supervising Attorney in the Domestic Violence/Family Law Unit, with the COVID-19 Hero Award, in recognition of her “outstanding partnership, flexibility, and commitment to survivors during the pandemic.”
Trisha joined Legal Aid in 2006. Her policy and court reform work, as well as her vast case load over the years, has aided thousands of survivors of domestic violence.
“You will not find a more passionate or effective advocate for domestic violence survivors than Trisha.”
Eric Angel, Executive Director of Legal Aid
Arlene and Ta’maira Petty
Arlene and her niece Ta’maira Petty connected with Charlene (“Charlie”) Whitman-Barr, a staff attorney in Legal Aid’s Domestic Violence/Family Law Unit, at the DVICSE last year. They were both filing for Civil Protection Orders (CPOs) against Ta’maira’s mom, Arlene’s sister.
Ta’maira’s mom had been verbally and physically abusive towards her for years and had also made several threats against Arlene. Ta’maira finally went to go live with her aunt but her mom would not leave her alone and the emotional abuse continued.
“I know for a fact that we would not have won that case if we didn’t have Charlie.”ARLENE PETTY
Ta’maira’s mom filed a CPO in Maryland against Arlene on the same day, but ultimately Arlene was granted temporary custody of Ta’maira, who was 17 at the time (which would last until Ta’maira turned 18). Through another hearing, the Judge ultimately awarded Arlene custody and granted both her and Ta’maira’s CPOs against Ta’maira’s mom. After this representation, Arlene reached out to Legal Aid again because she was having issues getting TANF and SNAP benefits for Ta’maira in DC. That is when Carolyn Rumer, an attorney in both our Public Benefits and Domestic Violence/Family Law Unit, stepped in to help. Carolyn represented her in a fair hearing to get six months of back benefits and prospective benefits, providing a much-needed safety net for Ta’maira.