Speaking of Women's Rights: 05/17

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fear as a Barrier: Why Immigrant Victims of Violence Can’t Access the Justice They Deserve

By Sara Ainsworth

In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, Legal Voice has teamed up with the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence to highlight the impact of anti-immigrant policies on immigrant survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The Northwest states are home to more than a million immigrants, many of whom are Asian American and Pacific Islander. Advocates from API communities – a diverse group facing diverse disparities – have led the way in promoting state and federal policies to make it safer for immigrant survivors of abuse to report the abuse against them and seek the protection of the courts.

But new federal anti-immigration policies – including raids, increased arrests, and targeting immigrants with no criminal history – threaten to undo decades of work to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault go to the police for help when they are in danger.

A nationwide survey of legal programs and domestic violence agencies, published last month, found that fears of reporting to the police were up a shocking 78% among immigrant survivors of domestic violence. Today NPR reported on this survey in a story about Latino immigrants in Texas fearing deportation if they reported crimes. As the NPR story noted, these fears are particularly harmful to victims of gender-based violence; in Houston, for example, sexual assault reporting by Latina immigrants is down 43% from last year. In a related report, a Denver prosecutor described having to drop four domestic violence prosecutions after the travel ban was signed in January – all four victims were immigrants who feared they would be taken by immigration authorities at the courthouse if they testified against their abusers.

Punishing immigrant victims for coming forward means violent abusers can continue to threaten, harm, and intimidate their victims. It creates a two-tiered system of justice, where only some of our communities are protected.

How you can help:
  • Call your city council members, wherever you are, and demand that law enforcement and other public officials not inquire about immigration status. 
    • Here's a script: "Victims of violence should not have to fear being deported or separated from their families when seeking help and justice. But countless immigrant survivors are living in fear of just that. When local police collaborate with immigration enforcement, victims are discouraged from seeking safety and cooperating with the criminal legal system. Please pass policies barring local officials from inquiring about victims and witnesses’ immigration status.”
  • Contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and demand that they stay away from courthouses
  • Support the organizations that are moving this critical work forward: 

Photo courtesy of Janko Ferlic | Unsplash

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Doing What it Takes: Maresa's Perseverance and Journey to Legal Voice

By Phil Bouie

“I don’t like when people refer to me as being a strong mom. I’m just doing whatever I need to do to provide for and protect my children. I signed up for this when I became a mother.” 

– Maresa Harden

Maresa Harden had been in a relationship with the father of her children for several years before things took a turn for the worse. He became violent, verbally abusive, and would use intimidation tactics such as breaking her cellphone as an attempt to subjugate her. Maresa’s former partner began using their children as a tool of spite. He would withhold the children from her, sporadically change the times when they were picked up and dropped off, continuously be inconsistent about his availability and conceal information about his visits with the children. He felt he could get away with this blatant lack of accountability because she didn’t have an official parenting plan.

Even though the Washington State Parenting Act helps protect domestic violence survivors and ensure a safe and healthy upbringing for their children by requiring certain restrictions on the abused parent, domestic violence survivors are routinely told to “work it out” through a divorce or custody case. It’s also very common for survivors to be wrongfully granted short-term protection orders rather than a long-term order that suits the situation appropriately. Legal Voice works in Olympia to pass strong laws to protect survivors, but creating those laws is only the first step. We monitor Washington courts to ensure those laws are being followed properly.

Maresa could not afford a lawyer. She was unsure and somewhat frightened of how the process would play out. Could she put her trust in the courts to do the right thing for her and her children? Maresa went to the Pierce County court to file for a temporary parenting plan and found out that she could not put her full trust in the judicial system. The judge granted Maresa a temporary parenting plan and acknowledged her former partner’s history of domestic violence. However, the judge refused to include the father’s history of domestic violence in the court documents. The judge claimed that the charge would “follow him around like some ghost.”

Unsatisfied with the court’s decision, Maresa determined that she needed legal representation if she were to file an appeal.

Legal Voice represented Maresa in her appeal of the parenting plan, arguing that the trial court’s error removed a critical protection created by Washington law. The court’s initial decision left Maresa and her children at risk of further abuse. The decision also left communication guidelines between Maresa and her abuser unresolved. The Court of Appeals agreed with us, reversing the trial court’s decision and demanding a new parenting plan that included restrictions on the father’s decision-making and custody time.

Although the trauma of being a domestic violence survivor is something that never fully subsides, Maresa and her children have persevered, continued to move forward, and are doing well. Maresa recently got a job in her children’s school district that gives her work hours that are more compatible with the lives of her children. Maresa’s oldest daughter is involved with several sports teams and participating in a program for excellent students. She is one of three students that was selected from each school in the district that will have an opportunity to meet with Mayor Jim Ferrell of Federal Way as part of a Communities in School fundraising event. Maresa’s youngest daughter has had perfect attendance for the entire school year while excelling in all of her classes, and has recently earned a student of the month award.

“Legal Voice made it financially possible for this to happen. It wasn’t an option without them,” said Maresa when I met with her recently to discuss her case. “The way that David [Ward] approaches things, his demeanor and his professionalism are awesome.

“I want people to know there are organizations like Legal Voice that fight will for you and victims experiencing trauma in Washington State. I want to thank Legal Voice and the donors and supporters of Legal Voice who made this all possible.” Fighting for Maresa has allowed her family to focus on life and achieve success.

Phil Bouie is the Development Officer for Legal Voice. He is inspired by Maresa's story and urges you to participate in GiveBIG to support this ongoing, critical work.