What barriers does an abused person face when attempting to end a violent relationship? As a long-time advocate for victims of domestic violence, Nichelle Mitchem recognizes that the complexity of the legal system and the absence of legal assistance cause some victims to stay in an abusive relationship. By understanding of the importance of the access to legal information, assistance, and often representation for battered women, Mitchem has sought to enhance the accessibility to legal services for victims of domestic violence for much of her career.
Whether serving as an administrator of legal service programs for battered women or as the executive director of a domestic violence agency, Nichelle has been asked to present on: the dynamics of domestic violence, available supportive services, and the legal aspects of domestic violence. “Like shelter and counseling, access to legal information and assistance serve to empower abused persons,” Mitchem says. When discussing domestic violence with various audiences, participants often pose the question, “Why doesn’t the victim just leave?” In response, Mitchem says, “Most victims want to leave and many try. Even under the best of circumstances, leaving a relationship is difficult. Violent relationships are complex; and victims in these relationships are faced with many barriers to leaving. These barriers include the lack of knowledge of: civil and criminal protections afforded to them under the law as well as available legal resources. Additionally, the abusive partner occasionally uses intimidation and/or violence to stop the victim from severing the relationship. As a result, victims often fear retaliation for ending the relationship.”
Mitchem asserts that, “Victims often stay, because they fear that the abuser will find her and kill/harm her, the children, other relatives, or friends. They stay with the hopes that the violence will end, because they are financially dependent on the abuser, lack alternative housing, or are trying to keep the family together. They stay hoping change is possible. It takes strength and determination to survive violence. However, as time goes on, surviving an abusive relationship becomes more difficult.” This fact is particularly true for economically disadvantaged battered women and abused women with disabilities.
Mitchem has sought to enhance access to legal services for this particularly vulnerable population by understanding of the importance of legal information, assistance, and representation for many battered women, particularly those who are indigent, homeless, and/or disabled. During her tenure as executive director, domestic violence agencies have launched and/or expanded on legal service programs that assist clients in negotiating legal and other challenges that might arise as they seek to eliminate domestic violence from their lives. These very necessary programs assist survivors of domestic violence to build long-term safety and security for themselves and their children.”
For information about available legal services and other programs for victims of domestic violence in your community, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website at http://www.thehotline.org.
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