Report: To Reduce Domestic Violence, Give Women Free Lawyers Already


A new report from the Institute for Policy Integrity, a nonpartisan think tank at the NYU School of Law, constructs a compelling economic argument for providing civil legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence.

Citing, among many others, a 2010 CDC study that estimated that 1 in 4 U.S. women will become victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, the report emphasizes the ripple effect this violence has not only on the women and families directly affected, but also on society at large. Domestic violence costs the U.S. an estimated $9.05 billion annually, and providing low-income victims with legal representation would result in savings associated with “medical and mental health care costs, criminal justice system costs, and the tangible and intangible benefits associated with lessening children’s exposure to violence.”

Denise Grab, senior attorney at the Institute for Policy Integrity and co-author of the report, told The Huffington Post: “Not only are there rights- and moral-based reasons for support for domestic violence survivors, there are many economic reasons too. When we invest in education or infrastructure, no one sees a problem because the benefits of doing so clearly justify the cost. This may be the case for when we invest in services to support domestic violence survivors as well.”

According to Department of Justice statistics cited in the report, women in the lowest-income households experience seven times the rate of abuse that women in the highest-income households suffer. A lawyer provides some of the tools necessary to escape a violent partner, from a protective order (one study cited by the report shows that 83% of victims armed with a lawyer were able to obtain a protective order, while only 32% managed to do so without; while these orders are often violated, Grab calls them a “tremendously important” step in the escape process) to help with immigration issues, child custody and housing.

As The Huffington Post points out, this report comes at a crucial time: only 11% of domestic violence programs nationwide are able to provide victims with a lawyer, and this number is falling; between 2013 and 2014, 66 programs reduced or eliminated their legal representation services due to a lack of funding.

This report is significant, because it means that there is literally no reason—moral or economic—for the federal government to continue to abandon victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in other national crises with seemingly obvious and universally beneficial solutions, that far from guarantees the timely implementation of any meaningful action.

Contact the author at [email protected].

Image via Shutterstock.

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