Safety available for abuse victims

by ELIZABETH PEZQUEDA

At the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, domestic violence cases are a priority. The nonprofit organization keeps its doors open to all individuals and families dealing with domestic abuse, no matter the person’s income.

Legal Aid, which is one-third of the non-profit group “…And Justice For All”, seeks to help battered women, men and children gain the safety they deserve by aiding victims in a number of different ways.

Stewart Ralphs, executive director of the Legal Aid Society, said victims who are living with or have a child with the abuser most commonly need help to file civil protective orders. Those victims who do not live with or have a family with the abuser are helped with filing civil stalking injunctions.

Legal Aid also provides emergency safety planning for the victim if it is needed. In these types of cases, victims are educated about how to stay safe or get to safety if they are confronted by their attackers again.

“We do a safety plan with our clients, so if they have to flee immediately, they are more prepared to do so,” Ralphs said.

During the emergency planning, victims are encouraged by a staff member to be aware of different ways they can get out of their residence. Some of the things that these safety plans stress are keeping doors and windows locked, talking to neighbors, keeping a phone in another part of the house and having a suitcase ready with a change of clothes, medicine and copies of important documents. These documents may include a birth certificate, Social Security card and driver’s license.

Victims are also instructed to keep in mind where close relatives and trusted friends are located, in case there is an immediate need to go somewhere else.

Legal Aid understands there is often a criminal side to the victim’s case as well. If the state decides to press charges against the abuser, the victim also faces interviews with police and possibly testifying in court, among other actions.

“Victims often have to deal with both the criminal and civil side of the law,” Ralphs said. “It can be very confusing for them.”

Because there are often many different facets in each individual case, Legal Aid tries to provide the victim with numerous different sources for help in potentially every area in which the abuse has affected her or his life. Some of these resources may include the YWCA, Department of Workforce Services, Division of Child and Family Services and the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center.

Asha Parekh, director of the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center, said it is a place where victims of abuse can come and get access to all the different services available to them.

“Our goal is to make it easier to access the services in the community,” Parekh said.

The Family Justice Center provides help in filing civil protective orders and civil stalking injunctions through a Legal Aid Society paralegal. Through the YWCA, the center also tries to work out any and all housing issues that may pose a threat to the victim.

“Short-term emergency housing is available to victims of violence, and long-term housing is available for families and single women,” Parekh said.

Unfortunately, many women who are dealing with domestic abuse have children who have also been affected by the situation.

“Children are always secondary victims to domestic violence, if not primary victims,” Ralphs said.

Legal Aid and the Family Justice Center try to provide a place for the children who come in with a parent who has been abused, so the parent can get the help they need without the child being directly involved.

Ralphs said that providing a means to safety for the victim and her or his children is a priority for the Legal Aid Society.

“It’s very important that victims get all the protections that the law affords them,” Ralphs said.