International Women’s Day 2015 provides a great opportunity to highlight the ways in which women fleeing abusive relationships seek safety and justice through the legal system.
The virtual elimination of Legal Aid in British Columbia and the complicated acceptance process has resulted in an increase of women who are having to self represent in family law, immigration and refugee cases. Over 80% of women accessing our services identify at least one legal issue where they require information.
“I couldn’t find a lawyer that wanted to take on my family case, there is simply not enough money involved with Legal Aid to make it worth their time”
For women who are leaving abusive relationships, the complication of dealing with the power/control issues of a violent spouse, makes dealing with legal system more difficult. Many women are the primary caregivers of children, and as such, may not work outside the home. Many women who do work outside the home do not make enough to pay for a lawyer but their income makes them ineligible for legal aid. They are then forced to represent themselves if they cannot find an advocate or a pro-bono lawyer. Some women give up and stay with their abuser because it is easier than leaving.
“It would have been easier to stay with the abuser and not deal with the courts and the painful separation”.
Women leaving abusive relationships have to make many critical decisions such as: where they will live after they leave, find protection for themselves and their children and start a new life. From the first decision to leave, a woman has to determine how she will support herself and her children. Women may also have the additional impact of a former spouse using the courts against her. In many of the cases seen at BWSS, abusive partners use the court process to harass, degrade and force women to concede to their demands. Often women are navigating several areas of the law concurrently and often at opposing purposes.
“I was told [by a lawyer] to be quiet about the abuse and just settle so I could get child support, meanwhile providing access to my child violated a peace bond I had stemming from the assault charges against my abuser”
Without legal training, without lawyers, without English everyday women are standing in court with their abusive partners standing a few feet away from them and they present their cases in front of a judge.
The outcomes for women when they do not get proper and supportive legal representation and advice are:
- women are forced to provide unsafe access to their children with their violent ex-spouses,
- women must share custody with violent, unpredictable ex-spouses who often know where they live,
- women do not receive fair or just child support and spousal support payments to provide themselves and their children,
- women are threatened with deportation by their violent spouses,
- women are forced to take hours of time to access different types of support services to get preliminary advice (working women are losing income in order to access support services),
- women are forced into mediation services when the power and violence issues make them susceptible to more abuse,
- women must research and use self-help resources for complex legal problems that should be handled by a lawyer, and
- women who do have Legal Aid report that they deal with lawyers who do not take violence seriously and leave it out of the proceedings when it is integral to fair legal outcomes for battered women.
The Legal Services and Advocacy Program at Battered Women’s Support Services provides legal support to women who have experienced violence in intimate relationships helping women navigate the Canadian legal system. Our supervised legal advocate, interns and volunteer lawyers provide legal information, accompaniment to court and legal appointments, we appeal when legal aid has been denied and we provide assistance documents and affidavits preparation. Battered Women’s Support Services provides a monthly Women’s Family Law Clinic where women receive summary legal advice in order respond to some of their legal needs in the areas of family law. It cannot be underscored enough how important access to justice and our Legal Services and Advocacy Program are for women’s long term safety and freedom from violence. Through accessing our Legal Services and Advocacy Program women are able to leave their abusive relationship, receive more fair custody and access orders increasing the safety for the children, able to have a voice in mediation proceedings and very importantly having access to legal representation in their legal cases.
In 2014, 933 women accessed our Legal Services and Advocacy Program and 210 women attended our Legal Advocacy Workshops and Law Clinics.
“I want a life free of violence, and I want my children to grow up violence free as well”
This International Women’s Day please join us in supporting women’s access to justice by making a donation.
Your gift of $100 will provide four hours of legal advocacy support services.
Thank you again for your commitment to supporting women’s liberation and freedom from abusive relationships.
March 6, 2015 from 9 am to 1 pm
The response to the forum has been incredible and we are expecting a full house tomorrow.
You can also attend the conference via webcast through this link.
If you could do something to end violence against girls and women, wouldn’t you?