Helping Hearts with Legal Advocacy

PADV's legal advocacy programs in Gwinnett and Fulton counties include partnerships between the county court systems, Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (AVLF), Safe Families Office and Legal Aid. The overarching goal of the program is to assist clients in overcoming the barriers often experienced in the judicial system. PADV also has the privilege of training judges and judicial staff to understand the dynamics of domestic violence - seeking to bring the perspective of domestic violence survivors to all components of the legal system.

In addition to educating victims and judicial staff, Safe Families Office, Georgia's only lawyer-staffed and courthouse-based resource for survivors of intimate violence, helps clients obtain temporary protective orders (TPOs). A TPO is a court order to help protect victims from someone who is abusing, threatening or harassing them.

When we asked Shatel Francis, Crisis Mental Health Advocate for PADV's Safe Families Office, about her most inspirational client, she immediately thought of Empress. Empress is a domestic violence survivor who over the past five years used a range of PADV's legal service. She obtained multiple TPOs and a divorce filing through PADV's partner organization AVLF, and worked with PADV advocates in times of crisis. She also looked to the Safe Families Office social workers to help with everyday needs such as transportation and childcare

Empress' story is hard to read. She applied for her first TPO after her husband pushed her into the wall, held her in a chokehold and punched her repeatedly. Unfortunately, this was not her first incidence of violence, nor would it be the last or the most hurtful. Empress endured an overwhelming amount of financial and psychological abuse, which inflicted the greatest emotional toll. Empress and her husband were medical professionals and her husband would manipulate their childcare providers or completely absolve himself of childcare responsibilities to force Empress to be late to work, his ultimate goal was getting her fired. For cultural reasons, Empress ended up dismissing her TPO after being assured that the elders of her native tribe would intervene to address the abuse.

Two years later, Empress obtained another TPO. This time Empress detailed the sexual violence and repeated strangulation she suffered during the two-year time span between her first and second TPO filings. Again, while devastating, this would not be her greatest hardship. That resulted from, after throwing scalding water on her, her husband was able to manipulate law enforcement to arrest Empress, a blemish on her otherwise outstanding citizenship record. When Empress came to our office just days after receiving second- and third-degree burns over her entire body, we learned more details of her horrific experience.

As Shatel continued to interact with Empress, her ongoing inspiration was how Empress' narrative taught Shatel cultural humility, that the nuance of what represented "enough" was different for each client and how tolerating violence becomes an everyday occurrence in some clients' reality. Moreover, Empress' bright smile and faith in a higher being were unwavering. Empress continues to work with PADV through her divorce and to help her return to the violence-free life she had prior to getting married.

"I want the community to know we are here to help. The legal advocacy staff meets with over 5,200 individuals across Fulton and Gwinnett counties each year. Our attention to detail, community relationships and willingness to assist are incomparable. Even when a client or community advocate is unsure if a temporary protective order is the right step to take, we are here to assist clients in talking through how to move towards living a violence-free life," said Shatel.

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we hope that you will join us in our mission to end the crime of intimate partner violence. We encourage you to join Helping Hearts, our monthly giving program meant to expand PADV's resources so that we may meet the growing needs of all survivors. Click here to learn more and to donate.

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