Research: Women's Justice Center
By launching the CARE Program, the Pace Women’s Justice Center has been able to provide an additional layer of support to victims and survivors of domestic violence.
The Pace Women’s Justice Center is an organization that provides legal assistance to people who are victims of domestic and elder abuse. Among the many programs and services the WJC offers is the ever-growing CARE (Court Accompaniment, Respect, and Empowerment) Program—which, through volunteerism, is aiding the fight against domestic abuse, one legal case at a time.
“As part of our program, we need to go to court a lot with our clients,” says Natalie Sobchak, director of pro bono programs at the Women’s Justice Center. “Domestic violence is one of those types of issues where there are many different layers for a victim or survivor. It’s very difficult for many people in that situation to come forward and talk to a lawyer or anybody else about their issues, and even more difficult to go to court and having the prospect of coming into contact with someone who has been abusing them.”
As such, Sobchak recognized there was a need to provide additional assistance to clients—assistance that would not only tremendously benefit the clients, but also their respective lawyers. The CARE program, which matches volunteers with individual clients, does exactly that. Volunteers—who come from all walks of life—receive training in legal basics, confidentiality law, and a number of other facets, before becoming eligible to work directly with clients.
Thus far, the program, which was made possible through seed money and the generosity of the Thomas and Agnes Carvel Foundation, has been a resounding success, and the feedback from clients has been strong.
“The clients have been absolutely wonderful—they have so much appreciation for this new program and service. Many forge a very quick bond with the volunteer they’re with, and appreciate the fact that the volunteer really is there for them—our lawyers are doing what the lawyers need to do to make sure their legal rights are protected, but the CARE volunteer provides another level of support.”
Given that domestic violence is a traditionally underreported crime (as Sobchak notes, only an estimated one out of five cases of domestic violence are reported to authorities), and is an issue that many victims and survivors sometimes have trouble discussing with close family members or friends, the CARE program has proven to help clients immensely, particularly in relation to the anxieties surrounding ongoing legal proceedings.
“Many times, [a client] has no other support system. So our volunteers do provide a great asset, and the clients see that. The lawyers appreciate that assistance too, because it enables them to do their work without the constant worry of whether or not their client is OK—they know the client is in safe hands.”
The program, most certainly, has benefitted immensely from the commitment level of the volunteers. Of the approximately 40 volunteers, those who work with pro bono programs are decidedly long-term—logging almost 8,000 hours of service per year.
Furthermore, Sobchak is excited about the rare opportunity the program presents—one that enables lawyers and non-lawyers alike to get involved with the mission of the Pace Women’s Justice Center.
“You don’t need to have a law degree or any other type of particular degree,” she says. “It’s really how you interrelate with other people.”
As for the future? Given the program’s success, Sobchak hopes to continue expanding its breadth and effectiveness.
“The future is definitely expansion. We want to provide as many clients as possible with this support.”
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