by MADISON RICE
“I love being able to help people. I get to level the playing field,” said Stewart Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. Ralphs said his nonprofit agency is committed to ensuring the safety of victims of domestic violence in Salt Lake City by offering low-cost legal representation.
“It’s sometimes the first time that someone [has] stuck up for them and they get to have a fair deal. Someone to go to bat for them,” he said.
Founded in 1922, the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake is among 22 domestic violence coalitions across the state of Utah. The Legal Aid Society provides low-cost legal representation to low-income individuals in family law cases. It also works with the Multi-Cultural Legal Center, the Division of Child and Family Services, the Department of Workforce Services, the Salt Lake City Police Department and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The Utah Domestic Violence Council provides resources, too.
Victims of domestic violence and abuse are encouraged by the Legal Aid Society to get immediate help at one of four locations, found on its Web site. But Ralphs admits the visit may take a while.
“It takes four to five hours to do that process if you are at the front of the line. You can’t go do this on a lunch hour,” Ralphs said.
However, the wait can be worth it. Persons seeking help are ensured a safe environment and are given the tools necessary to obtain a protective order or stalking injunction.
Protective orders are for people who are defined as cohabitants. “Cohabitants are currently or formerly married, related by blood, have a child together, or if they just live with someone else, like a roommate,” Ralphs said. “People who are not cohabitants can get a stalking injunction.”
Protective orders can last forever, while stalking injunctions last three years.
According to 50 responses received by the Legal Aid Society, 90 percent of protective orders are not violated.
“But we do know violations happen,” Ralphs said. “We tell all our clients: protective orders are very effective, but we will give them advice to keep them safe. Lock your doors at night, have an escape route in your house, have a suitcase packed and copies of important documents in case you have to flee on a moment’s notice.”
Women and children can find a safe haven at the YWCA in downtown Salt Lake City. It also provides safety plans for victims who arrive seeking help.
“We are a completely free, nonprofit agency,” said Lam Nguyen, director of Women’s Services and Diversity Services at the YWCA. “We provide crisis intervention and basic items and needs.”
The average length of stay at the YWCA’s Crisis Shelter is about 20 days, according to Nguyen. Groups for children are available while they are at the shelter. “We have an academic specialist that can do lessons with the kids. We have support groups to cope with what has happened and we have recreational programs,” Nguyen said.
The shelter is available to 75 women and children at one time and the program serves more than 500 women and children each year. The YWCA helps connect victims with the Legal Aid Society to file for a protective order. The YWCA will then check in with the victim weekly to see how she is doing and assess her goals.
The Legal Aid Society offers full legal representation throughout the process the victim is going through. “It is very important, we feel, to provide [for them] from start to finish so they are sure they are getting all the protections the law affords them,” Ralphs said. “There’s something really nice about doing whatever is necessary for someone. If it takes two months, great. If it takes five years, it doesn’t matter. I will do what’s necessary.”
For more domestic abuse help, call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line at 1-800-897-LINK (5465) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).