Legal Aid Helps a Survivor of Domestic Violence Find Relief From Years of Abuse


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 become free from abuse and 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.

"Natalie" became a Legal Aid client after being married to "Paul" for 20 years. They have three young children. Ever since the start of their marriage, Paul has abused Natalie.

Paul had a drug addiction, and was in and out of jail many times. His children were afraid of him, and suffered from panic attacks when he was around. He was violent at home: 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), comprises our Domestic Violence Collaborative. Janet turned to her pro bono network andplaced the case with Jonathan Joannides-- an attorney with Wilson Sonsini-- who agreed to represent Natalie in court. With pro bono help from Jonathan, 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.

Although no form of legal action can undo the suffering they endured, thanks to your generous support, Natalie and her children got the legal assistance they needed to begin to move forward.

To protect client confidentiality, all client names have been changed.