Collaborating Across Clinics to Support Survivors of Domestic Violence

By Darryl Cunningham, Director of the William & Mary Domestic Violence and Family Law Clinics

Since 1987, Domestic Violence Awareness Month has been used to draw attention to the many lives impacted by interpersonal violence.  Once again, October brings us to that focal point. While the violent, controlling, and inappropriate behaviors continue to exist, time has provided more awareness, resources, and allies in the fight. One of those resources and allies is the William & Mary Law School clinic program.

The clinics function independently, focusing on their respective area of law. However, more and more, there is cross-over between legal issues and clients. As the director of the Domestic Violence Clinic, I have the pleasure of working with the Immigration Clinic on behalf of our clients. We have three mutual clients at the time of this writing. Each suffered abuse that resulted in the need for a protective order, accompanying criminal charges, and protecting the survivor from adverse immigration actions, as is often the threat of the abuser.

Abusers routinely use immigration status, deportation, fear of law enforcement, and of the court system itself as nonphysical ways of controlling the abused. Uncertainty of the legal system, language barriers, and threats of losing custody of U.S. citizen children are frequent and powerful tools used to exert power and control. Fortunately, with the advent of our Immigration Clinic, our clients have been able to learn the truth about their rights and have help navigating the immigration system.

The Immigration and Domestic Violence Clinics enjoy a close working relationship that benefits our clients, individually, and the community as a whole. Each abusive relationship touches the abused, the abuser, the children, the school staff, neighbors, the court system, the economy, and the list goes on and on.  By protecting the innocent and allowing them to come out of the shadows of abuse, they can heal to be an asset to their families and the community.

Our clinics provide free legal assistance to clients in these as well as other areas of law while allowing students to gain practical experience under the tutelage of licensed, experienced attorneys.