On June 12, 2019, attorney Maggie Galka and law clerk Dayna Smith attended a seminar hosted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entitled “Helping Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Seek Justice.” They heard from the Honorable Ruben Castillo, Chief Judge, and staff attorneys from Ascend Justice and the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). The speakers focused on how attorneys from various fields could help individuals impacted by gender-based violence access client-defined justice. Client-defined justice can take many forms such as criminal punishment, civil remedies, or simply having someone there to advocate on the client’s behalf.
Ascend Justice (previously the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic) operates two clinic programs that focus on achieving their mission to “empower individuals and families impacted by gender-based violence or the child welfare system to achieve safety and stability through holistic legal advocacy and systematic reform.” Ascend’s Domestic Violence Division Pro Bono Project pairs volunteer attorneys with domestic violence survivors seeking Orders of Protection. The volunteer attorney takes on the client’s entire case, representing them until the matter is completely resolved, which can involve multiple court appearances. In the Emergency OP Clinic Volunteer Project, legal professionals and law students provide brief services for litigants, which include helping them draft pleadings and affidavits and explaining the court process. The staff attorneys noted that individuals with help or representation from an attorney were significantly more likely to receive an Order of Protection than those who did not have representation.
CAASE focuses its services on survivors of sexual exploitation, including sexual assault and the commercial sex trade. Its mission is to address “the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or support sexual exploitation.” Their work includes prevention, policy reform, legal services, and community engagement. In the legal services section, CAASE staff attorneys and volunteers work in a variety of legal fields to achieve client-centered justice for survivors. Those legal fields can include criminal law, civil no-contact orders, workplace complaints, civil personal injury law, and criminal record expungement. And, because of CAASE’s policy initiatives, the variety of legal and administrative avenues available to survivors continues to grow.
Ultimately, each of the speakers emphasized that survivors and individuals impacted by domestic violence need an advocate. For example, Illinois enacted the “Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights” fairly recently, and many judges may not have had an opportunity to learn how those rights interact with a criminal case. For example, the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights has been used to stop defense counsel from subpoenaing a survivor’s privileged rape counseling records. This is just one example of how a survivor’s attorney can help protect a survivor’s rights throughout a criminal investigation and trial. Overall, Maggie and Dayna left the seminar with a lot to reflect on and a desire to lend their support.
For more information about Ascend Justice and CAASE, go to:
Need Help Now? Call the Illinois Domestic Violence 24-Hour Helpline: (877) 863-6338.