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Study: Access to a Lawyer Strongly Decreases Domestic Violence

March 27. 2009

Marion, VA - A six-year increase in legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in Southwest Virginia has been a success. The Southwest Legal Aid Society (SVLAS) greatly increased its outreach over that period, and the result has been a dramatic 35-percent decline in the number of requested protective orders; a much greater decline than seen statewide.

Larry Harley, SVLAS executive director, says the organization's attorneys help victim with legal issues, such as custody and financial support, but also help them look ahead to a stable future, free of violence. A lawyer's support makes it possible for victims to imagine themselves as successful survivors, he adds.

"If a victim wishes to aggressively pursue her matter through the courts, then we're there to help her do that, but we're not there to push her to do that, since some women don't want to seek a protective order."

SVLAS increased its domestic violence staff to four attorneys and three paralegals, but their main goal was not convictions, according to Harley. Instead, the group has focused on supporting the victim in any way he or she wanted, even if it meant choosing to not press charges.

"However, they might benefit from our safety planning or the work we can do with counseling agencies, or domestic violence programs, because we work in partnership with all other agencies."

During the same five-year period when domestic violence incidents in Southwest Virginia dropped, other violent crimes rose, a clear indication of the outreach program's success, says Harley. The increased services came with the financial support of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice.


Aries Keck, Public News Service - VA