HER Fea­ture

An­gela Echols as­sists do­mes­tic abuse vic­tims with much more than le­gal ser­vices; she also tries to help set them free

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents -

Help­ing vic­tims be­come sur­vivors

Two years ago, An­gela Echols made a de­ci­sion that is al­most un­heard of. She gave up her lu­cra­tive job as a full-time at­tor­ney at a firm in Hot Springs and founded a non-profit that of­fers low-cost le­gal ser­vices to vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse. Echols, who grew up in Hot Springs, works out of a do­nated of­fice space in David­son Law Firm. So far, she is the only lawyer work­ing for the non-profit, called Ac­ces­si­ble Le­gal Ser­vices. Re­cently, her sis­ter vol­un­teered to help an­swer phones.

Echols says she made the de­ci­sion to start the ini­tia­tive af­ter vol­un­teer­ing to of­fer life skills work­shops to women at Pot­ter’s Clay, a shel­ter in Hot Springs that of­fers pro­grams and sup­port to women who are vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse or try­ing to over­come ad­dic­tion.

“I just sud­denly be­came very in­ter­ested in women in re­cov­ery,” Echols said. “I was teach­ing them life skills, but they were telling me other sto­ries, men­tion­ing the le­gal is­sues they are try­ing to get re­solved and how there were no av­enues for them. Some­thing res­onated with me be­cause I saw this time and time again. This was the mo­ti­va­tor for me to start the non-profit law firm.”

Echols also now sits at the helm of the Gar­land County Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Task Force, a group com­prised of in­di­vid­u­als in the com­mu­nity who are work­ing to raise aware­ness about abuse in Hot Springs. She also or­ga­nizes a monthly sup­port group for abuse vic­tims and teaches classes to in­mates at the Gar­land County De­ten­tion Cen­ter.

Ac­ces­si­ble Le­gal Ser­vices of­fers its clients ser­vices such as help with fil­ing for di­vorce,

An­gela Echols Ac­ces­si­ble Le­gal Ser­vices 501.547.1287

“We are try­ing to ed­u­cate the pub­lic right now and show that it is a prob­lem,” she said. “It is a prob­lem a lot of peo­ple want to ig­nore. No one wants to get in­volved with any­one else’s prob­lems. They don’t want to step in and ask those hard ques­tions.”

cus­tody ar­range­ments and guardian­ship. If clients can­not af­ford to pay cer­tain court fees, she will as­sist them out-of-pocket.

But she also does much more than that.

Echols says she works with her clients to come up with a plan to leave their abusers and to stay safe. Leav­ing an abuser is usu­ally the most dan­ger­ous time for a vic­tim and re­quires a so­phis­ti­cated plan. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­la­tion­ship Abuse Aware­ness, 75 per­cent of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­lated homi­cides oc­cur when the vic­tim tries to get away.

Friends or fam­ily need to be in place to of­fer the vic­tim sup­port. The vic­tim may have no fi­nan­cial re­sources or em­ploy­ment be­cause the abuser has not al­lowed her to work. She will need a safe place to stay. It is not un­com­mon for a vic­tim to lit­er­ally leave in the mid­dle of the night.

“We have to have safety plans,” Echols said. “You are on edge when the vic­tim is leav­ing. We don’t know how the abuser will re­spond.”

“Most of them leave ev­ery­thing,” she added. “They don’t take any­thing, a lot of times not even clothes.”

Photo credit: Arkansas Coali­tion Against Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence

A dis­play of the Clothes­line Project, a memo­rial for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence vic­tims.

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