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Trauma-focused Legal Advocacy Series (Part 1)

by Dr. Nusrat Ameen, Daya Senior Director of Legal Services

Research shows only 50% of women who experience intimate partner violence are aware of services available to help. Survivors of abuse often hesitate to seek help from police, shelters, courts, and mainstream agencies due to language barriers, financial constraints, lack of knowledge, fear of deportation, and cultural differences. Culture refers to all the factors that characterize specific groups and is an extremely important component of human life. Daya’s experience with survivors from the South Asian community suggests that most clients prefer an advocate from their culture or who understands the issues particular to their community.

The majority of Daya’s clients are also first generation immigrants and are not aware of their rights in USA. Moreover, many are dependent on their abuser’s visa and feel trapped in the relationship, in fear of losing immigration status, being deported, and losing custody of their children. In some cases, immigrant clients (like H4 visa holders) don’t have authorization to work and their finances are totally controlled by their abusers. Immigrants also often hold a mindset of distrust about legal institutions from their home country and do not easily trust police or other formal systems outside the family. Unfortunately, if an H4 holder does not report an assault, they may lose eligibility to apply for a U nonimmigrant status (U visa)—a visa for victims of mental or physical abuse—and may face deportation.

When a survivor seeks support services, its critically to remember that other life circumstances have shaped that person to be who they are at the time of reaching for help. Trauma, in particular, can have a lasting impact on a person. For example, a survivor who was once very eager to obtain services may rapidly change their mind and refuse services or may seem withdrawn or resistant. Thus, it is important to design programs are trauma-focused and culturally competent. Using a culturally specific lens in domestic violence support means “we cannot expect the same interventions and approaches to fit all” (Lockhart & Danis, 2010 p. xxv). At Daya, we are mindful that each survivor's journey to empowerment is different, and we are committed to working with each individual at their pace, emotional level, and according to their needs.

In light of the known impact of trauma experiences, Daya started our Legal Services program in 2008 to provide our clients access to pro-bono legal agencies and attorneys and educate them of their rights and protections that exist under family and immigration laws. Our Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) certified staff also offer assistance with immigration forms and referrals for our clients. All Daya legal services are trauma informed and evidence based to ensure our clients receive high quality, compassionate support.

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