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Raising awareness and tackling issues

Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic continues its innovative work

Students in UB School of Law’s Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic have long advocated for clients in crisis, bringing the law to their defense with such tools as orders of protection and providing legal representation in custody and child support cases.

For the dozen students currently in the clinic, directed by Professor Judith Olin, that important work continues. But beyond crisis intervention, students pursue ways to prevent such violence from ever happening. As Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes to a close, it’s inspiring to see the range of work happening in the clinic—all in service of safe homes and relationships.

“They get such a rich diversity of experience,” Olin says of her students. “They do emergency-focused representation, and they work with clients, but they’re also working on new  projects and initiatives. It’s a very holistic kind of experience.”

Providing culturally specific services

A growing focus in the field is providing culturally specific services to targets of intimate partner violence in the minority community. Toward that end, the clinic is partnering with a newly established agency on Buffalo’s East Side called The Healing Station Agency. “Some research shows that women of color are more likely to be victims of domestic violence,” Olin says. “We’re building a bridge and nurturing and supporting this new organization that is in the process of developing.”

Two third-year students, Chanel Powell and Kari Ashworth, are working with Healing Station organizers, who say their agency will provide long-term support to clients to facilitate their physical, emotional and spiritual healing. “We want to encompass the whole person—mind, body and spirit,” says licensed clinical social worker Mary Jones-Clavell, a co-founder of the agency. “Intimate partner violence is traumatic, and it has an impact on the whole person. Healing of the spirit and the emotions is not going to happen overnight.”

Family Violence and Women's Rights Clinic Crossroads Fund

Support the work of our student attorneys and consider a gift to our Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic Crossroads Fund. Donations offset operational expenses, allowing the clinic to focus on serving the unmet needs of local domestic violence survivors.

a group of people displaying white tshirts with writing on them.

Prof. Judith Olin with clinic students participating in their annual Clothesline Project.

Powell is doing research for a pamphlet that will connect clients with helpful resources, especially around housing benefits available to help them escape a violent situation. She’s also interviewing survivors in order to identify “common relationship red flags we might see in the Black community,” she says. “Statements like, ‘my significant other always wants to know where I am’ or ‘They want to go through my phone.’ That could be a form of abuse and control, and it can escalate.

“A lot of domestic violence services are not located in the predominantly Black community,” she adds, “and that can present additional barriers. We’re trying to put a one-stop shop in place to address that.”

Addressing teen dating violence

Students are also working on a project aimed at preventing violence in teen relationships. Some curricula currently used in high schools is outdated and lacks diversity. Third-year clinic student Lindsey Pastuszynski, who has a background in theater, is producing a video to address that.

“We were watching old videos and they’re not very diverse,” Pastuszynski says, “and they had very stereotypical experiences that aren’t true to what really happens. Teen dating violence is pretty nuanced. There are different aspects of power and control issues, such as controlling friendships; isolation; and modern issues like sexting and revenge porn that weren’t being addressed.”

The video will include a compilation of short cellphone videos made by law students and others of very brief scenarios, no more than two minutes apiece. The cast is diverse and the scenarios include a vast variety of relationships. Pastuszynski is using a format that teenagers know well: watching the video will be like scrolling through a TikTok feed. The video will include contact information for the Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic.

Increasing safety at the courthouse

A third initiative continues clinic students’ work toward making local courts a safe and welcoming place for targets of intimate partner violence when they are seeking relief. Students are working to train local volunteers from the women’s service organization Zonta International as court watchers—providing a toolkit so the volunteers can visit courts and evaluate such factors as whether women are offered an escort to their car after a hearing, or whether there is safe waiting area that’s monitored against possible violence between the contesting parties.

“Partly this has to do with procedural justice, to make sure litigants have the opportunity to be heard, to understand what transpires and have a chance to ask questions,” Olin says.

The program is being piloted in the Lancaster and Cheektowaga town courts. The court watchers’ reports will go to the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, which will then make recommendations for improvements.