Innovating to Combat Intimate Partner Violence
NYLAG has been selected as the recipient of the 2015 Celebrating Solutions Roth Award. The award was created by the Mary Byron Project to showcase and applaud local innovations that demonstrate promise in breaking the cycle of intimate violence, specifically for underserved populations.
In a letter congratulating NYLAG on its selection, Marcia Roth, Executive Director of the Mary Byron Project, wrote, “We received over 200 applications from nearly every state in the country and although there were many excellent programs, yours rose to the top. Your outstanding efforts to help break the cycle of intimate partner violence serve as a model for the nation.”
The Mary Byron Project honors the memory of a young Louisville, Kentucky woman whose murder led to the creation of the nation’s first automated telephone notification system for crime victims and other concerned citizens. In 1993, Mary Byron was murdered by her former boyfriend. He had been in jail for having raped, assaulted, and stalked her earlier in the year, but was later released without Mary’s knowledge. He shot and killed her on her 21st birthday.
In response to the tragedy, local officials and engineers designed a system that would let crime victims know whether their offenders are in jail, where they are held, and when they are released. The National Victim Notification Network (VINE) was introduced a year later, and is now used in thousands of communities across the nation. The Mary Byron Project was established in 2000 by Mary’s parents, Pat and John Byron, in order to identify and recognize life-saving innovations like VINE.
NYLAG has received a $10,000 grant from the Mary Byron Project in recognition of Project Eden, which provides free legal services to traditionally underserved and isolated Orthodox Jewish victims of domestic violence. This Brooklyn-based program was designed to raise awareness of domestic violence in the Orthodox community and provide legal services for victims that considers their unique religious convictions and uses culturally and linguistically competent attorneys and paralegals to provide services tailored to their community.
“We are thrilled to receive this award, and so grateful that the Mary Byron Project recognizes the importance of developing solutions that can help bring down the barriers Orthodox Jewish victims of domestic violence face to escaping their abusers, including the fear of being ostracized by their religious community if they report abuse to secular authorities or access secular services,” said Kim Susser, Director of NYLAG’s Matrimonial & Family Law Unit.
Recognizing the religious repercussions of reporting abuse, NYLAG attorneys work with each individual victim to find the solution that is best for her. Since Orthodox Jewish traditions dissuade women from calling the police or seeking out civil protections, NYLAG attorneys often help clients obtain a get, the traditional Jewish divorce without which Orthodox women cannot remarry, even if they have obtained a civil divorce. In other cases, attorneys litigate two divorces – one in civil court and the other in religious court.
A particularly innovative aspect of Project Eden is the way it partners with both the public and private sector. The District Attorney’s office, city agencies and social service organizations refer victims to NYLAG for assistance in obtaining orders of protection, divorce, child support, and other civil court remedies that can ultimately help them escape their abusers. NYLAG also refers clients to other services available within the agency, including legal assistance with housing, immigration, and public benefit and financial counseling to help them safeguard their assets and achieve and sustain financial independence.
When considering applications for the Celebrating Solutions Roth Award, the Mary Byron Project looks for programs that have a proven track record of success in helping victims escape their abusers and better their lives. They also emphasize the importance of supporting efforts that can be replicated in other areas of the country. On both counts, Project Eden got high marks.
In 2015, NYLAG attorneys provided legal advice and representation on 139 Project Eden cases for 63 Orthodox Jewish women – and many clients successfully obtained or maintained custody, obtained financial awards and received final divorce judgments. Overall, the project has assisted approximately 700 women, with over 1,000 others participating in Project Eden’s educational programming.
Project Eden has already been successfully replicated in Queens, and other areas of the country with high Orthodox Jewish populations would certainly benefit from similar programs. Religious practices that dissuade Orthodox Jewish victims of domestic violence from reporting abuses are not unique to New York. The program can also be effective in other religious communities where there is need for cultural sensitivity and non-secular marital relief, such as the Muslim community.
“Programs such as Project Eden contribute to a safer community without compromising the religious beliefs of victims who have already suffered immensely at the hands of their abusers,” Susser says. “By partnering with local District Attorneys, community-based organizations and the Orthodox Jewish community itself, legal services agencies nationwide can help raise awareness about domestic violence in this community, bring abusers to justice, and foster ties that can help religious leaders be proactive in addressing this issue while allowing secular authorities to better protect their constituents.”