Le­gal abuse is do­mes­tic abuse

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - More Opinion - DOONESBURY Mary Lee A. Kier­nan is pres­i­dent and CEO of YWCA Greenwich.

Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is a crime that af­fects peo­ple of all races, gen­ders, re­li­gions and in­come lev­els. It is also a crime that of­ten doesn’t end when the vic­tim leaves the abuser. Tak­ing the step to leave an abuser is mon­u­men­tal for a vic­tim, and leav­ing is when vi­o­lence is likely to es­ca­late. The rea­sons for stay­ing are com­pli­cated, which is why it of­ten takes many tries be­fore a vic­tim can leave.

A cruel turn of events of­ten hap­pens after the vic­tim leaves the has had the courage to leaves the abuser: Abusers of­ten con­tinue to as­sert power over vic­tims by us­ing civil and crim­i­nal court sys­tems to their ad­van­tage through threats, in­tim­i­da­tion, and us­ing le­gal ma­neu­vers to main­tain con­trol. Le­gal abuse hap­pens when­ever an abuser mis­uses the le­gal sys­tem to re-vic­tim­ize his or her part­ner.

Vic­tims quickly dis­cover the com­plex­i­ties and chal­lenges of the le­gal sys­tem. While the sys­tem is set up to be im­par­tial, re­ceiv­ing the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion is of­ten based on the abil­ity to pay for a lawyer. Since abusers of­ten con­trol the fam­ily fi­nances, they are of­ten able to ob­tain ex­pe­ri­enced le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, while the vic­tim is self-rep­re­sented or less well-rep­re­sented by le­gal coun­sel.

In ad­di­tion, the abuser con­tin­ues to as­sert power and con­trol over the vic­tim by ma­nip­u­lat­ing the court sys­tem in their fa­vor us­ing tac­tics like:

Re­fus­ing to agree to rea­son­able cus­tody agree­ments or drag­ging out court bat­tles. Abusers can sud­denly show in­ter­est in par­ent­ing when they had not been in­volved with the chil­dren in the past.

Abus­ing the right to file mo­tions to keep the vic­tim tied up in court and ex­haust the vic­tim’s fi­nan­cial re­sources with le­gal fees.

Ap­ply­ing for re­strain­ing or­ders with­out the threat of vi­o­lence from the vic­tim.

Re­fus­ing to com­ply with court or­ders, forc­ing vic­tims to spend time and money en­forc­ing the or­ders.

Por­tray­ing the vic­tim as an un­fit par­ent and/or mak­ing false re­ports to De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies (DCF).

Claim­ing the vic­tim abuses drugs or al­co­hol and us­ing this claim against the vic­tim.

“Shop­ping around” for at­tor­neys, thereby cre­at­ing a con­flict of in­ter­est for at­tor­neys and pre­vent­ing these at­tor­neys from rep­re­sent­ing the vic­tim.

Re­quest­ing con­tin­u­ances to pro­long pro­ceed­ings and/or not show­ing up to court for sched­uled ap­pear­ances, when the vic­tim has had to ar­range child care, call out of work, or pay her at­tor­ney.

Not only are these tac­tics costly, but they also cause ad­di­tional emo­tional stress for the vic­tim. In fact, ac­cord­ing to Dr. Karin P. Huf­fer, a mar­riage and fam­ily ther­a­pist, the con­se­quence of be­ing abused through the le­gal sys­tem can cause a con­di­tion known as Le­gal Abuse Syn­drome, a form of post trau­matic stress dis­or­der caused by the con­tin­ued abuse of power, be­trayal, or fraud within the le­gal sys­tem.

What can we do to ad­dress le­gal abuse?

First, we need to con­tinue to raise aware­ness that abuse of the le­gal sys­tem is a pow­er­ful form of do­mes­tic abuse that en­ables an abuser to re­tain power and con­trol over the vic­tim.

Sec­ond, bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing about how abusers use the le­gal sys­tem to con­tinue to vic­tim­ize their part­ners must be pro­vided to judges, lawyers, court ad­vo­cates, po­lice of­fi­cers and other pro­fes­sion­als who treat vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Third, vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse also need ad­vice and coun­sel on how to de­ter­mine the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion for them­selves, in­clud­ing in­ter­view­ing mul­ti­ple lawyers, find­ing a lawyer who has ex­pe­ri­ence in lit­i­gat­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases, and find­ing a lawyer who will take the time to deeply un­der­stand the full his­tory of the vic­tim’s abuse, so they can best rep­re­sent the vic­tim’s in­ter­ests.

Ear­lier this year, YWCA Greenwich an­nounced the open­ing of the YWCA Greenwich Civil Le­gal Clinic. The clinic, run by two YWCA vol­un­teers who are at­tor­neys, is pro­vid­ing con­sul­ta­tions for YWCA Greenwich do­mes­tic abuse clients who need help fill­ing out le­gal pa­per­work; help with court doc­u­ments; as­sis­tance cre­at­ing fi­nan­cial af­fi­davits; ad­vice on mo­tions that they need to file; and ed­u­ca­tional con­sul­ta­tion ad­vice on what to look for in a lawyer.

Abuse of the le­gal sys­tem is an­other “hoop” that vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse of­ten go through to be free of the abuser. Join YWCA Greenwich in rais­ing aware­ness about this pow­er­ful form of abuse and sup­port­ing vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse in our com­mu­nity. To pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Civil Le­gal Clinic and the work of YWCA Greenwich Do­mes­tic Abuse Ser­vices, do­nate to the Pur­ple Purse Chal­lenge at ywca­green­wich.org/pur­plepurse. All of all funds raised this month will go to sup­port the work of YWCA Greenwich Do­mes­tic Abuse Ser­vices.

If you, or some­one you know, is in an abu­sive sit­u­a­tion, con­tact YWCA Greenwich Do­mes­tic Abuse Ser­vices at 203-622-0003. All ser­vices are free and con­fi­den­tial. You don’t have to fight abuse alone.

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Greenwich YWCA Pres­i­dent and CEO Mary Lee A. Kier­nan speaks dur­ing the Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Aware­ness and Pre­ven­tion Month Kick­off in Greenwich Oct. 2.

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