Faculty Post: Discussing Domestic Violence

by Jennifer Howard, Supervising Attorney of the Domestic Violence Institute

A woman steals her roommate’s food and an altercation ensues. When asked to clean up his trash, a brother consistently berates his sister, to the point she is afraid to come out of her room. Shelter mates “fight” over time in the bathroom and one continually stares down the other, causing fear. To force her partner to move out of the doorway and let her leave their apartment, a woman throws a remote control, knocking her partner in the eye.   A mother stabs a father’s arm with a fork to stop him from chasing after their teenage daughter. Each of these scenarios involves the use of violence within the context of a special relationship and each of them might constitute grounds for a restraining order in Massachusetts.   But should they?

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Faculty Post: the Legal Advocacy for Victims Project

by Jennifer Howard, Supervising Attorney of the Domestic Violence Institute

It’s a cold, late November night, when a NUSL 1L student first meets Paul, in the basement community room of a local transitional housing program. After a long day of classes and a rush hour ride to the event, the 1L carefully opens the interview with gentle questions in an effort to establish rapport with Paul. Through the course of the 90 minute consultation, the 1L gains Paul’s trust and listens intently as Paul describes childhood sexual abuse and the domino effect it has had on his life, as he sits now, profoundly depressed, unemployed and essentially homeless. A lack of support and an unwillingness by Paul’s family to validate his experiences have no doubt led him to take advantage of the chance to sit down with a NUSL law student to explore legal options. Welcome to the Legal Advocacy for Victims (LAV) project of the Domestic Violence Institute (DVI) at NUSL.

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Faculty Post: Lessons From a Law School Clinic

by Jennifer Howard

As officers of the court, fluent in the language, creators of, or at least participants in, its local practices, lawyers sometimes forget that many would-be litigants enter the courthouse with much trepidation and misinformation. While law school on the whole seeks to prepare students for their role as knowledgeable problem solvers, clinics provide students with a unique opportunity to learn about how to use that knowledge to help real people, with real problems. Explaining the legal system is one of an attorney’s most important tasks.

The Domestic Violence Institute at Northeastern University School of Law currently offers students two opportunities to learn to advocate for survivors of domestic violence: one through the Legal Assistance to Victims Project, a new community lawyering project aimed at connecting survivors to legal services at those places they first turn to for help; the other, through the Domestic Violence Clinic, founded in 1991. While both programs strive to educate students about the unique challenges faced by survivors navigating the legal system; it is the Clinic that delivers the chance to advocate in court on their behalf. The experience of direct, in-court advocacy provides soon to be lawyers many important lessons.

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A Priceless Gift: How to Support a Friend or Family Member Impacted by Domestic Violence This Holiday Season

by Jennifer Howard, Supervising Attorney of the Domestic Violence Institute

“You don’t know what he is like to live with,” explains Maria to her friend Lucy. They had been discussing holiday decorations and Lucy commented how perfect Maria’s home had been decorated, apparently by Maria’s partner. Maria goes on to describe through tears a life controlled by her partner’s endless criticism, manipulation, and physical intimidation. Maria has taken a brave step disclosing this information to her friend. How can Lucy help?

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Faculty Post: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

by Jennifer Howard, Supervising Attorney of the Domestic Violence Institute

A man chases his partner through the house with a kitchen knife. Their three children cry in a bedroom down the hall. The victim needs help, but what is the cost of reaching out? This is the central question each and every victim and survivor of domestic violence has to ask herself or himself, each and every day. Life is full of trade-offs, we all know this. Yet for some reason, our society has managed to oversimplify the dilemma that faces victims of domestic violence: if she wanted to end the violence, she would leave. Many brilliant minds have proffered thousands of reasons disproving this assertion; pointing to everything from fear of retribution to being manipulated back into a relationship by flowers set in a vase of apologies. The factors involved in deciding to stay or attempting to go are complex and very personal, but there is one universal truth under it all: it is a decision only the person affected should or can make. The validity of one’s decisions, even in the face of horrific abuse, is not for outsiders to judge or evaluate. The cost for reaching out: loss of one’s right to make private decisions, privately.

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