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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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Calling All Victim Advocates!


As the weather turns cooler and the beauty of the foliage enchants, as the scent of pumpkin spice fills the air and Halloween candy is ever-present, remember to wear purple to raise awareness about domestic violence, and consider volunteering to help the Crime Victims Legal Network.

This October marks the 30th anniversary of national Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM).  DVAM was launched back in 1987 to unite individuals and organizations working on domestic violence issues and to raise awareness of the experiences of these unique victims of crime.  Wearing the color purple during this month, especially on the Thursday during the third full week of October (this year, October 19th), has helped to draw attention to this important issue.  Over the past three decades, we have shined a light on this social injustice that knows no social and economic boundaries, and through grassroots and legislative efforts, have made a significant difference in the lives of intimate partner violence survivors. But our efforts are still needed in support of these victims – and for other victims of crime.

The New York Crime Victims Legal Network (CVLN) is a partnership of organizations working together to better address the civil legal needs of crime victims, including victims of domestic violence.  Crime can have a huge impact on victims and their families.  The emotional reactions to a crime can include a variety of behaviors such as increased concern for personal safety, withdrawal from others, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and a range of feelings from fear and anxiety to guilt and helplessness.  On top of this, victims of crime may have to face multiple legal problems that stem from their victimization. It can be overwhelming, and many people aren’t sure where to turn.

The CVLN is in the process of developing new tools that will connect victims of crime with the information and services they need.  A dedicated website will have a suite of features including a triage screening tool, legal aid help directory, self-help resource library and live chat.  From the Needs Assessment we conducted last year, we know many crime victims don’t seek help because they don’t know where to go, don’t think that anything can be done to help, or because they think they can deal with things on their own.  The triage tool is being designed to help crime victims identify their legal needs.  For the pilot stage, we are focusing on providing legal resources in the areas of housing, family, employment, immigration, and finances – the top needs identified by victims of crime and service providers.  By offering know your rights and self-help resources, we hope that more crime victims become aware of the options available to them, and through the help directory that they know where they can obtain help with their legal problems.  And to assist users in finding their way around the website, a live chat feature will be available.

To create a product that truly meets the needs of crime victims in New York State, we need feedback from real people.  If you are a victim of a crime who resides in Erie or Genesee County, would you consider becoming part of our Community Insight Group?  We’ll be turning to you at various stages of the development of the website to get your thoughts, opinions, and advice.  Is the website design aesthetically pleasing?  Is the site easy to maneuver?  Is the content helpful?  Your feedback will play an important part in guiding the direction of the website.  User testers will receive a small stipend for their assistance.

Service providers – we can use your help, too!  Please help us recruit user testers.  Reach out to past clients you believe would likely use our site, anyone who could potentially have civil legal issues directly or indirectly stemming from their victimization.  We’re inviting 10-12 people to be a part of this Community Insight Group.  Or you can help by volunteering as a content expert, someone who reviews the legal content being developed for the site and makes sure the resources we offer are useful.  Please email me at rparthasarathy@empirejustice.org if you are interested in helping or for more information.

I hope we can count on your help with the Crime Victims Legal Network.  And don’t forget to wear purple!



This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.









The Crime Victims Legal Network Project: Moving into the Pilot Phase


Last Spring, the Crime Victims Legal Network Project launched a comprehensive needs assessment to better understand the civil legal needs of crime victims in New York State.  To the hundreds of crime victims and service providers who completed surveys or took part in focus groups and in-depth interviews: Thank you!  I am overwhelmed and gratified by your participation and excited to share the results with you. 

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project is a federally funded partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services, Empire Justice Center, the Center for Human Services Research at SUNY Albany (CHSR) and Pro Bono Net.  Together with our fourteen-member Advisory Committee, we are working to develop a first- of- its- kind statewide network outside New York City that uses sophisticated technology solutions to make it easier for crime victims to access civil legal aid.

Over a year was spent designing and conducting a multi-phase Needs Assessment, led by our research partner, CHSR.  The Needs Assessment was essential to helping us identify the civil legal problems faced by crime victims, the barriers to seeking help and the role an online resource could play in helping fill the existing gaps in services outside of New York City.  While we had a sense of what these problems and gaps were, we want to create an evidence-based solution that will play a meaningful part in assisting victims of crime and the professionals who work with them.

The response to the surveys was tremendous.  We received 310 responses to the victim of crime survey, and 412 responses to the service provider survey.  Focus groups for both sectors were conducted in nine regions across the State, and civil legal attorney and law school clinical faculty were interviewed.

Here are some highlights of the analysis of the issues, services and challenges in meeting the civil legal needs of victims of crime:

  • Most crime victims faced problems related to money or finances, family and housing as a result of their victimization. 
  • High percentages of victims reported needing help with knowing what services were available and understanding the legal system.
  • Of those who did not seek help to deal with their problems, many indicated that they did not know what services were available or they didn’t think anything could be done.
  • Service providers also indicated that the biggest barrier to meeting the needs of crime victims was victims’ lack of knowledge about the availability of services.
  • Focus group participants and interviewees echoed these responses and highlighted transportation as well as language access and cultural issues as barriers to victims receiving civil legal aid.
  • With regards to the use of technology in helping meet these service needs, most victims indicated that they would, or may, consider using an online tool, and most service providers reported a willingness to refer their clients to an online resource.


The complete report can be found on CHSR’s website.

As the Project Leader, I had the privilege of assisting in four of the focus groups in western New York, and I am humbled by the generosity of all the participants.  The expertise of service providers was astounding, and your recommendations – all of which came from a place of genuine caring – were taken to heart.  And the crime victims?  Your willingness to share some of the most intimate and traumatic experiences of your life to ensure that other crime victims get the help you didn’t is nothing short of incredible.  Thank you, to all the participants.

What’s so exciting is that, now with the analyzed results, we can make sure that the technology solutions developed for the Network Project are truly grounded in the real life needs and preferences of crime victims.  Based on the results, Pro Bono Net, our technology partner, has proposed that the Network’s technology include a website with a suite of features designed to meet the needs of crime victims, and at the same time help civil legal assistance providers in delivering holistic services to their clients.  And that’s what we are starting to develop during this second phase of the Project.

May 1st marked the start of Phase II, the pilot phase of the Network Project.  As we develop the technology, we will be focusing on growing partnerships within the western New York region, specifically in Erie and Genesee counties, the geographic area of the pilot.  Our goal is to work with service providers – both legal and human services providers – whose clients may benefit from the technology solutions being developed, and have them test the online resource and help us improve it before we expand it to the rest of New York State. 

For the pilot stage, we will be focusing on the top concerns identified by both crime victims and service providers in the needs assessment: family, money/finance, employment, housing and immigration.  Your knowledge, along with the continued guidance of the Advisory Committee, will help us make sure the information on the website is useful, practical and can really assist crime victims with their civil legal issues. 

In the next few months, I’ll be reaching out to some of you to be a part of this initiative.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Crime Victims Legal Network Project or in helping out, please contact me.  I can be reached at rparthasarathy[at]empirejustice[dot]org.

This report was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.



Tags: crime victim | domestic violence | Crime Victims Legal Network Project





Giving Tuesday is November 29!


     

Looking for ways to take ACTION?
 
On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, come together with other people, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world for one common purpose: to support organizations that DO GOOD.
 
The day has many names—internationally known as #GivingTuesday, we also have the stateside  'New York Gives' , and #ROCtheDay in Rochester.
 
Often lumped together with Black Friday during the holiday season, #GivingTuesday encourages people to invest in their community by donating to organizations that defend the values that they believe in. There's no rules for participation, just go to the website for the nonprofit(s) that you'd like to support and make a donation.
 
It's a chance for everyone to take part in supporting the values and ideals that you care about most. For us here at Empire Justice, it's laws and policies that make sense, community empowerment, and fairness for all in the justice system.
 
And that's what you get when you invest in Empire Justice - together with your help, we make the law work for all New Yorkers on a systemic level through policy advocacy, class actions, on-the-ground advocacy for individuals, and capacity building through training and support to other organizations around New York State.
 
So whatever way you choose to participate, #GivingTuesday, #ROCtheDay, or through New York Gives, choose fairness for all and help us make the law work for all New Yorkers.



Tags: civil rights | Giving Tuesday | Rochester | Albany | social justice | legal services | legal aid





Crime Victims Legal Network Project’s Needs Assessment Survey


We are looking for your help!  Please complete the Crime Victims’ Legal Network Needs Assessment Survey that will help crime victims seeking civil legal services.

You may have come across it already – a hard copy survey in the library or in the waiting room of a human service organization in your community.  Perhaps you’ve seen a poster or received a link to an online survey from a colleague on a professional listserv.  If you have, I hope you complete the survey and be a part of the Crime Victims Legal Network Project’s Needs Assessment.

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project is a federally funded partnership between the New York State Office of Victim Services, Empire Justice Center, the Center of Human Services Research at SUNY Albany and Pro Bono Net.  Together we are working to develop a statewide network using cutting edge technology that can make it easier for crime victims, especially those in rural & underserved regions, to access much needed civil legal services.

This broad-scale, multi-phase Needs Assessment will help us gain a better understanding of the non-criminal legal needs of crime victims in New York State.  We need to know how to improve access to civil legal services, and how those services can be improved - and we need your recommendations on how to do that – both from victims (en español) of crime and service providers.  We need to know:

  • Who informed you of your rights as a crime victim?
  • If you had a legal problem, would you use a virtual help program to video conference with an attorney?
  • Would you use an online web-based program to help you prepare court forms?
  • What are the most critical needs for civil legal services that are not being met?


The information we obtain will help us make sure that the technology solutions we develop are grounded in the real-life needs and preferences of crime victims.

I was a crime victim years ago.  I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t seek help, I didn’t tell anyone.  To be honest, at that time I don’t think I really knew that what happened to me was a crime.  I had no idea where to go for help, no clue what my legal rights were, and I certainly didn’t know that so many aspects of my life would be impacted.  As Project Leader, I don’t want anyone to be as isolated, as alone and as overwhelmed as I was.  By sharing your experiences with us, you’re helping us create a Network that can help thousands of New Yorkers connect to legal resources they didn’t have access to before, or to help they may not have even known about. Your voice is essential to making this Project meaningful and valuable.

     
  Remla Parthasarathy, Crime Victims Legal Network Project  



The surveys – one for people who have been victims of crime (en español), and one for service providers – are just the first part of the assessment.  Next steps include putting together focus groups – small group discussions led by facilitators – that will be conducted as part of the second phase of the assessment.  The focus groups will start in July and August in ten cities across New York including Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Plattsburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Utica, Watertown and two on Long Island.  Additionally, the research team will be interviewing attorneys, staff at law clinics and legal professionals, looking to garner key insights that will help inform the network’s development.  So you have different opportunities to be involved.

Some of you may take a look at the hard copy survey, see the multiple pages and immediately say ugh, I’m not going to do this – it’s way too long and I don’t have the time. 


Please take another look.

We crafted the surveys to be as easy to complete as possible, and the information you provide will be invaluable as we work to assemble the Network.  I took both surveys myself and it didn’t take very long.  The survey is anonymous, and after completing one you can enter yourself into a lottery for a chance to win a $150 gift card.  We’re hoping for at least 500 people to complete a survey – that’s you & 499 others.

If you’re interested in being involved in a focus group, or would like a link to the survey, please contact the primary researcher Susan Erhard-Dietzel at sdietzel@albany.edu or 518-591-8796.

Thanking you in advance for your participation in the Needs Assessment, and looking forward to sharing the results with you.

The Crime Victims Legal Network Project has received the guidance of an amazing group of individuals who serve as its Advisory Committee members.  They have been instrumental in the development of the Needs Assessment questions, and their support has buoyed me in my work. These members are:

  • Philip Burse, In Our Own Voices
  • Tabitha Carter, The Safe Center, LI
  • Joseph Fazzary, Schuyler County District Attorney
  • Lisa Frisch, The Legal Project
  • Lisa Gerritse, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
  • Rachel Halperin, Legal Service of the Hudson Valley
  • Rochelle Klempner, New York State Courts Access to Justice Program
  • Jennifer Nadler, Onondaga Community College
  • Karen Nicholson, Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled, and Disadvantaged
  • Robin Marable, Legal Assistance of Western New York
  • Lew Papenfuse, Worker’s Justice Center
  • Susan Patnode, Rural Law Center of New York
  • Charlotte Watson, New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts
  • David Young, Disability Rights New York


This article was produced by the Empire Justice Center & the New York State Office of Victims Services under Grant No. 2014-XV-BX-K009, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.













Bilingual Orders of Protection to be Issued on Long Island


Empire Justice Center and other advocacy groups that support domestic violence survivors were thrilled to learn that family courts on Long Island began issuing bilingual Orders of Protection in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Russian on January 4, 2016.  In response to a letter from a coalition of more than 10 Long Island based organizations, Office of Court Administration Executive Director Ronald Younkins announced the extension of a pilot project to issue Orders of Protection (OPs) in languages understood by limited English proficient (LEP) participants in family court proceedings in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  The coalition of advocates had urged that bilingual OPs be made available on Long Island because of its large immigrant population and the potential dangers that arise when OPs are not understood by the people to whom they are directed. 

New York LEP residents have always been actively involved in family courts.  Victims of domestic violence will often petition in family court for OPs against abusers.  If a victim alleges that the abuser continues to represent a danger , the family court judge will issue a Temporary OP specifying what, if any, contact is permitted between the alleged victim and abuser prior to a hearing.  A temporary order will be extended if there is proof at a hearing that the abuser poses an active threat to the victim.

Until this year, however, OPs were only issued in English.  LEP domestic violence survivors often have access to language assistance and support from advocates, and interpreters are present in the courtroom.  However, when they return home with an order they are unable to read or understand, they will have difficulty if they need to seek its enforcement from the police or the court.  Additionally, it is problematic for the courts and law enforcement to insist on adherence to an order to stay away or refrain from certain activity if the order is in English and the LEP perpetrator cannot understand it.

New York began a pilot project in 2015 to issue bilingual OPs in English and Spanish in selected counties throughout the state.  The success of the pilot led the Office of Court Administration to expand the project to other counties and additional languages in 2016.  When Long Island advocacy groups realized that neither Suffolk nor Nassau County was included in the expansion despite the large LEP population in both counties, we wrote to OCA’s Executive Director and the Honorable C. Randall Hinrichs, the Tenth Judicial District Administrative Judge who oversees the administration of state courts in these counties, asking for reconsideration.  As a result, OCA determined to include Long Island in the 2016 expansion.

The availability of bilingual OPs will improve the safety of Long Island residents and may save lives.  Empire Justice and other advocates will continue to press for translation of bilingual OPs and other vital court documents into Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, and other widely used languages to offer greater protection to as many people as possible.  But for today, we can celebrate that the family courts are poised to take an important step in safeguarding our communities.









Bringing Together Language Access Advocates on Long Island


For many years, I have worked as a legal advocate and social worker with immigrant communities on Long Island.  During this time, I have witnessed the many difficulties which my clients have experienced in negotiating the system, obtaining benefits from government agencies, gaining police protection, accessing healthcare and understanding information about their child’s educational needs.  These difficulties are often compounded when there are language barriers or cultural misunderstandings.  When government funded programs, such as the police and social services, do not provide proper interpretation or translation, the results can be disastrous, leading to homelessness, a lack of protection for victims of domestic violence or other crimes, inadequate healthcare and even the removal of the children from the household.
 
Many other advocates on Long Island have shared these concerns.  Even though Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal funds from practicing national origin discrimination, we were aware that this was happening on Long Island on a daily basis.  For this reason, in October 2010, several advocates from a diverse group of programs and agencies came together to form the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition (LILAC).

LILAC has been active in addressing the disparities faced by limited English proficient (LEP) community members on Long Island  by documenting these problems, reaching out to program administrators and policy makers, letting them know the challenges our community members are experiencing, reminding them of their legal obligations and providing them with technical support.  We have seen positive results, including the assigning of more bilingual workers, increased staff training, improved signage and translations of vital documents.  We are also very encouraged by the passage of New York State Executive Order No. 26, which mandates state agencies with frequent public contact to provide comprehensive interpretation and translation services, and by the enforcement efforts of New York State’s Attorney General and the U.S. Department of Justice.  In alliance with other organizations, LILAC has been instrumental in gaining the passage of executive orders in Suffolk and Nassau counties which mandate county agencies to provide interpretation when needed, as well as translation of vital documents into six languages.  Yet we know that there is still so much work to be done and that we need to continue strategizing and learning to move forward!
 
On Friday, November 15th at Touro Law Center in Central Islip, LILAC will hold its second annual conference, “Navigating a Roadmap for Language Access: Celebrating Our Successes, Addressing Our Challenges.”  The purpose of this conference is to continue raising awareness and seeking solutions to the need for language access and cultural competence in our communities. 

The conference will begin with an overview of language access presented by Michael Mule, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice (and former employee of Empire Justice Center).  Workshops will feature a number of renowned speakers including Jose Perez of Latino Justice/PRLDEF, who will address language access and law enforcement issues, the Office of the NY State Attorney General discussing voting rights and Dr. Jack Levine of Nassau University Medical Center presenting findings of a study on the disparities in services for Hispanic families with children with autism.  Hot topics such as Language Access and Disaster Recovery, and Language Access and the Affordable Care Act will also be covered, in addition to numerous other topics. 

The afternoon will conclude with a panel of Suffolk County representatives discussing their plans to improve language access services on a local level.  We hope that participants will leave this conference with a better understanding of the issues and acquire the tools and resources necessary to improve their agency’s services, to assist their community members or to defend their own right to language access. 

To register online, go to www.longislandlanguageadvocates.org.  Early registration ends November 8th, so please register now for a reduced rate.  We look forward to seeing you there!



Tags: language access | limited English proficient | LILAC | New York State Attorney General





Empire Justice Center to “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”

Issue Area: Domestic Violence

On Saturday, October 5, 2013, Alternatives for Battered Women, Monroe County’s licensed domestic violence organization, will hold its annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event at Ontario Beach Park.  The Rochester office of Empire Justice Center is so proud to have a team walking this year.  This major event by Alternatives for Battered Women is their kickoff event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  The Walk raises funds to support their work with victims of domestic violence, as well as awareness of the topic. “Walk a Mile” was founded by a man, and stands as a call to action for all men to stop violence against women-and all victims.  The Walk is an international event, and for over a decade has had tens of thousands of participants and raised millions of dollars for local rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, as well as education and prevention programs.  To learn more about the local event, click here.  For more information on the history and mission of the Walk, click here.

 

Throughout the year, Empire Justice Center works hard to address domestic violence issues from a variety of angles.  From providing training and support to domestic violence organizations, legal advocates, and others to advocating for change to both legislation and public policy, we strive toward the goal of making the lives of victims of domestic violence, and all New Yorkers, better.  At the Walk, we’ll do this good work in stilettos—or sneakers!

 

Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that is intentionally used by the abusive person to gain or maintain power and control over their intimate partner.  Coercive tactics can include physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and economic abuse or threats.  Abusive conduct injures, humiliates, frightens, isolates, threatens, intimidates or manipulates its intended target. Where there are children in a home infected by domestic violence, they may also suffer consequences as witnesses or direct victims of abuse.  Domestic violence can happen in new, dating relationships, as well occur over time in more long-term partnerships without regard to gender, sexual orientation, age, race, faith community, and socio-economic status.  To learn more about domestic violence, visit the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.      

 

To learn how to create a local Walk a Mile team of your own, click here.  Please join Empire Justice Center in our support of this most worthy of causes--whether you do it with your feet or your pocketbook!  We also encourage everyone to participate in or host a domestic violence awareness event in their community in the month of October.  Together we can stop abuse.  



Tags: Empire Justice | Domestic Violence | Alternatives for Battered Women





A Peek at a New Resource for Domestic Violence Victims who are Limited English Proficient


A Peek at a New Resource for Domestic Violence Victims who are Limited English Proficient

 

Imagine for a moment that you are the victim of domestic violence and are enduring the ongoing physical and emotional violence of your abusive intimate partner.  Now, imagine that during a particularly dangerous attack, you call 911 so that the police will come and help you and your children.  The police arrive, but you are unable to communicate with them because you are a non-citizen and English is not your primary language.  Your abuser, on the other hand, speaks English well and, instead of talking to you, the police only interview your abuser because they don’t call for  an interpreter.   As a result, you have no way of explaining what actually happened from your perspective.  Later, a domestic violence advocate advises you to seek an order of protection in family court.  You are not really sure what an order of protection is or how to get one.  Your experience with the police has alarmed you and you are not sure how to even begin taking the steps you need to take to get help without language assistance. 

 

This nightmarish scenario is the reality for many domestic violence victims in New York State who are Limited English Proficient (LEP), meaning English is not their primary language and they have a limited ability to speak, read, write, or understand English.  An estimated 2.4 million residents of New York are LEP.

 

Unfortunately, many LEP victims of domestic violence are unaware that both state and federal law require the courts, the police, and other service providers to offer language assistance at no charge when LEP individuals seek help.  In addition to language barriers, victims may be hesitant to access the civil or criminal justice system because they fear losing custody of their children or immigration consequences, such as deportation and removal from the United States.  Lack of familiarity with the legal system, as well as economic, cultural and religious barriers may also conspire to erect additional barriers for victims in their attempts to stop the abuse they suffer.

 

We are pleased to report that Empire Justice Center has produced a pamphlet designed to address this problem by clearly outlining the language access rights of limited English proficient victims in Family Court and how to access other services.  The pamphlet will be translated into the top 3 most common languages requested in New York’s courts. In an effort to reflect actual experiences with courts and police, as well as the real life fears and barriers to seeking help for this project,  Empire Justice Center surveyed various domestic violence and legal services providers across the state and used the information to inform the text.

 

The new resource, “Seeking Protection from Domestic Violence in New York’s Family Court: Information for Immigrant Victims with Limited English Proficiency is now available in English.  It is easily downloadable and will shortly be available in Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese— in addition to English.  For organizations that would like to order copies of this pamphlet in bulk, they will also be able to do so through our website.  Stay tuned!  In the next few days we will reveal the translated brochures!!!



Tags: Domestic Violence | Limited English Profiiciency