How to reduce domestic violence with legal assistance

Martha Bergmark
January 4, 2016

Approximately 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the U.S. every year. Every day, three women die because of domestic violence. It’s a life-or-death matter that requires urgent attention.

The causes of domestic violence are complex, and there is no single policy or program that can prevent it from happening. But there is one critical—and long overdue—step we can take that we know makes a great deal of difference in the lives of survivors: ensuring they have access to legal help, regardless of their ability to pay.

Domestic violence survivors aren’t guaranteed a lawyer. Only a small fraction of domestic violence incidents lead to criminal prosecutions, and while abusers facing criminal charges have a right to an attorney, survivors seeking protective orders or full custody of children are not, because these matters are considered civil. However, research shows that increasing access to civil legal aid is one of the most effective strategies to curb rates of domestic violence. A recent report from the Institute for Policy Integrity explains how legal advocacy can reduce domestic violence substantially—even more than access to shelters or counseling services—as much as 21 percent according to one study.

Civil legal aid organizations across the country have created innovative programs that reduce barriers for survivors to obtain legal help when they need it. Greater investment in civil legal aid would allow more people to access these programs, improve their lives, and escape dangerous situations.

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Organizations mentioned/involved: Voices for Civil Justice