How to reduce domestic violence with legal assistance

The causes of domestic violence are complex, and there is no single policy or program that can prevent it from happening. But there is one critical step we can take that we know makes a great deal of difference: ensuring survivors have access to legal help, regardless of their ability to pay.


Martha Bergmark
Fox News
January 4, 2016

Tags: Domestic Violence

Organizations mentioned/involved: Voices for Civil Justice, Iowa Legal Aid, Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid


People are surprised when they learn that domestic violence survivors aren’t guaranteed a lawyer. Only a small fraction of domestic violence incidents lead to criminal prosecutions, and while abusers facing criminal charges have a right to an attorney, survivors seeking protective orders or full custody of children are not, because these matters are considered civil.

Despite the high stakes, survivors who can’t afford an attorney must face complicated legal challenges on their own. Without legal help, they often lose, making it impossible to escape dangerous situations and move forward with their lives.

Research shows that increasing access to civil legal aid is one of the most effective strategies to curb rates of domestic violence. A recent report from the Institute for Policy Integrity explains how legal advocacy can reduce domestic violence substantially—even more than access to shelters or counseling services—as much as 21 percent according to one study.