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It's National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and many of you may be wondering how you can help, beyond writing large donation checks to your nearest shelter. The good news is, as a lawyer, you have a number of tools at your disposal to help make a difference for the one in four women and one in seven men in the United States who suffer serious physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner.
Here are a few tools and ideas to get started:
Understand the Issue and the Law
Domestic violence is quickly becoming its own field of law, comprised of dozens of state, federal, and international treaty-based laws. Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to help attorney advocates understand the domestic violence legal landscape.
For the international law angle, which includes information on treaties that bind the states, the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School produced a Human Rights & Domestic Violence Advocacy Manual.
As for local laws, many state and local bars have similar resources, such as New York State's impressive treatise: Lawyer's Manual on Domestic Violence -- Representing the Victim, 5th Edition, which covers everything from interviewing the victim to dealing with complicated issues of child support, international child custody disputes, and immigrant victims.
The ABA estimates that only 20 percent of low-income people have access to legal aid, while 23.6 percent of women and 11.5 percent of men have been victims of domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory provides information on training to help, as well as volunteer opportunities.
Prepare Your Own Practice
Many attorneys, especially those with criminal and family law practices, will come across domestic violence victims over the course of their career. Planning ahead, and maintaining a list of local resources can help you to help a victim in need before it is too late.
Keep a list of local victims' shelters handy. Familiarize yourself with the requisite paperwork and procedures for temporary restraining orders. And keep in mind laws regarding gun ownership for those accused of, or convicted of, a crime of domestic violence.
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