Celebrate Solutions: Domestic Violence Survivors Learn Legal Rights

By: Rati Bishnoi, Program Manager, Catapult

The following is a 90-day progress report on Jenesse Center’s “Legal self-defense for domestic violence survivors" project, which fully funded on Catapult earlier this year.

Jenesse Center, Inc.—the oldest domestic violence intervention program in South Los Angeles—is more than just a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. Jenesse is a family institute with training and educational programs, services and outreach efforts that offer hope by rebuilding lives, reuniting families and enriching our community.

This summer—through a fundraising campaign on—Jenesse was able to raise fund $25,000 to help domestic violence survivors effectively represent themselves and advocate for their legal rights in court.

Financial constraints and the lack of familiarity with how the legal system works can make victims of domestic violence feel that they have encountered yet another hurdle in the fight to make themselves and their families safe. Research from the state of California shows that 72 percent of Family Law litigants in Los Angeles County are self-represented at the time of filing.

Few victims of domestic abuse are familiar with the intricacies of the law and even fewer understand how the law interacts with federal laws, the Constitution, and public policy. As a result, an unrepresented client can make costly mistakes that limit her ability to stay safe.

It is imperative that women learn how to navigate the Family Law court system in order to protect themselves and their children. Here is a brief update on this project’s progress:

We want to share our success and what we have learned regarding effective legal advocacy for domestic violence survivors with the greater community through our “Learning Everything Legal: Legal “Education and Empowerment for Domestic Violence Survivors” program. Central to the “Learning Everything Legal: Legal “Education and Empowerment for Domestic Violence Survivors” program is our mock hearing training video, which will provide program participants with visual instruction regarding effective and ineffective methods of self-representation in seeking a restraining order. Our efforts have focused on developing the scripts that will be used to film the mock hearing training video. We attracted the support of a professional screenwriter and with her help, we now have four scripts which chronicle a “do” and “don’t” scenario involving two sets of litigants. The scenarios, which are entertaining, yet informative and educational, will be portrayed by professional actors. An experienced film director has agreed direct our mock hearing video and we are actively recruiting actors.

Risks and challenges

Translating an idea into something that is tangible can be challenging. We experienced this with the scripts for our mock hearing training video. We had great ideas but no idea how to translate them into a usable format. In fact, our early attempts at script writing were quite humorous! We realized that if we wanted to produce a professional training video we needed professional assistance. Fortunately, a long-time supporter referred us to an experienced screenwriter with extensive screen credits. We shared our vision for the mock hearing video and, with her expertise, developed four scripts that will enable us to educate and empower domestic violence survivors in their quest to obtain the protections afforded by a restraining order.

Next steps

For the immediate future, we will be focused on filming our mock hearing training video. As noted, we have secured an experienced film director to help us produce the video, and we are in the process of recruiting professional actors for the video. In addition, we are securing permission to shoot the video in an actual courtroom. We will continue to develop the collateral materials that will be used with the video. We will unveil the mock hearing video by mid-2014.

“The Learning Everything Legal Program will enable us to share what we have learned over the last 34 years about effective legal advocacy with a population that may never enter Jenesse's walls. Our Learning Everything Legal program allows us to provide a larger community of domestic violence survivors access to the tools and resources needed to protect themselves and their children.” —Alyson Messenger, Jenesse Center Managing Staff Attorney

If you are inspired by this progress, take action:

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