In response to the Jared Remy case, there has been much discussion about how to reduce incidences of domestic violence. As we discuss ways to deal with the issue, we should keep in mind the value of civil legal aid.
Lonnie Powers, the executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which is one of the sponsoring organizations of the Equal Justice Coalition, wrote an insightful piece about this for Huffington Post:
Research shows that the availability of civil legal services significantly reduces the likelihood that someone will again be the victim of intimate partner violence. In 2000, two researchers at the Carnegie Mellon Census Research Data Center were intrigued by a U.S. Department of Justice report noting that rates of domestic violence had significantly declined during the 1990s. By analyzing data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, as well as the U.S. Census, they concluded that access to civil legal services was a primary reason for the decline. Services provided by emergency shelters, counselors and hotlines are vital during a crisis. But access to protective orders, assistance with child custody and support, divorce and property distribution and domestic violence-related legal disputes around immigration, housing and public benefits help over the long-term as these services “appear to actually present women with real, long-term alternatives to their relationships,” the researchers concluded in their report, which was published in 2003 in Contemporary Economic Policy.
In another piece about domestic violence published in the Arlington Advocate, attorney Matthew T. Mangino mentions Powers’ Huffington Post piece and cites the role that civil legal aid can play. He also adds that empowering victims—who are, in most instances, women—is also key:
However, until full equality is achieved professionally and personally, here and abroad, the scourge of domestic violence will continue.
Full equality is not possible without equal access to justice. The House begins its budget debate today. We hope lawmakers keep in mind the critical role civil legal aid plays in mitigating not just this issue, but many others that ensure justice is accessible to all.