Legal Aid Restores Safety to a 20-Year Survivor of Domestic Violence

"Natalie" had been married to "Paul" for 20 years. They have three young children. Ever since the start of their marriage, Paul abused Natalie.

Paul had a drug addiction, and had been in and out of jail many times. His children were afraid of him, and suffered from panic attacks when he was around. He exhibited violent behavior in the house: breaking glass in the children's bedrooms, punching through the television, shattering the car windows, and ruining the carpets. Paul even purposefully sabotaged the sump pump in the basement, causing the house to flood.

Paul frequently yelled at Natalie in front of their children.  He spit in her face, and even threatened to kill her. Paul would not refer to Natalie by her name, only by "bitch." After an episode in which Paul poured hot beans on Natalie's body and threw lard in her hair, Natalie filed a police report, leading to a temporary restraining order against Paul. But even after the temporary order was filed, Paul continued to violate it, leaving Natalie and her children no less afraid than before.

Natalie needed a permanent restraining order. She was referred to Legal Aid's Director of Pro Bono Janet Seldon by partner Bay Area Legal Aid, who, along with Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA), comprise our Domestic Violence Collaborative. Janet turned to her pro bono network and placed the case with Jonathan Joannides-- an attorney with Wilson Sonsini-who agreed to represent Natalie in court. With Jonathan's pro bono help, Natalie was granted a permanent restraining order, including full protection for her children and no visitation rights for Paul. Paul cannot violate this order without facing criminal charges.

Domestic violence is a problem in every community-one in three women will experience physical abuse in their lifetime.  Access to legal services is critical in enabling survivors to establish independent and permanent functional family units. A recent study concluded that the "availability of legal services has a significant, negative effect on the incidence of abuse" and that offering "long-term, realistic alternatives to their relationships" is a key component for women leaving abusive relationships.

Legal Aid and its cadre of pro bono attorneys are able to provide legal representation to survivors of domestic violence, and help them navigate the complex and intimidating criminal and family court systems. Between April 2015 and March 2017, Legal Aid closed 204 domestic violence and elder abuse cases. In over half of those cases, the attorneys provided extensive legal services to clients; helping 63% of clients secure permanent restraining orders against their abusers.

Although no form of legal action can undo the suffering that Natalie and her children endured, a permanent restraining order can enable them to finally move forward with their lives, and to begin to recover, knowing that the law protects them.