After the midterm, our law professor Perry Binder (I’ll tell you some funny stuff about him later) gave us an opportunity to write a paper on any legal issue of our interest to earn extra-credit. I sure did use the opportunity to add to my grade. The legal issue I care for is Domestic Violence and I am willing to share with you a story I wrote about.
In the United States of America, a woman is being beaten up every nine seconds. On average, 24 people per minute become victims of rape, physical violence, or being stalked by an intimate partner in the United States, according to new findings released in December 2011 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story – more than 1 million women are being raped in a year, and over 6 million women and men become victims of stalking. These findings emphasize that sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence are major public health problems in the United States.
The social issues of Domestic Violence and sexual assault are mostly covered by laws based on state law. This includes restraining or protection orders, divorce, custody, crimes, and more. There are some federal laws that may be relevant to Domestic Violence situations as well, including immigration and military laws.
Immigrants coming to America are very vulnerable and often become victims of abuse, particularly women. Women with children and women who speak no English are at risk and are more likely to experience Domestic Violence in the United States.
Definition of Domestic Violence.
According to National Domestic Violence Hot Line website, Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.
It was April 14, 2006 when I received the first e-mail from HIM who seemed to be just right for me: blond hair, blue eyes, well fit, very athletic, smart, romantic and caring, no children and he had never been married (so he told me). He worked as a Chief Credit Officer at a well-known company, made good living, and in the same time he had a high level of social responsibility fulfilling it by taking care of sick children who were dying from cancer (so he told me). I believed I finally met my Mister Right. Our relationship was warm and romantic. He came to Kursk, Russia multiple times during the three years we were dating for, while I was finishing my Law School and Business School simultaneously. I had arrived to Atlanta, GA on July 31, 2008 to live my happily-ever-after with HIM in the United States. At the time, I spoke no English. I had no friends, no family here, and found myself being totally depend on my american husband who, I believed, truly loved me and had my best interest in mind. My married life was far from what I expected. Mister Right kept me home for 8 months, with no people to communicate to, no phone available to me, no car to give me an opportunity to get around, no Skype to connect with my family in Russia, no English lessons to allow me learn the language and the culture and adjust to the unfamiliar environment, no documents filed with the USCIS to update my legal status, and no money to cover my basic needs.
Besides that, Mister Right made me his house-slave whose purpose was to cook, clean, do laundry for him and sit by his side in front of a TV whenever he wanted. When on September 8th, 2008 he was trying to kill me on a highway in Bainbridge, GA and someone called the police, I told the officer to not take my Mister Right to jail because I was scared in a new country knowing nobody and having no support. What a mistake that was! He did it again on October 20th of 2008. April the 9th, 2009 could have been the last day of my life, but I made it my second birthday by leaving the man and going to a shelter with the 3 officers who arrived that afternoon to save my life. That is when I faced the law related to Domestic Violence in America.
Vulnerability of Abused Women-Immigrants.
Women with children, I’ve discovered, have the priority over single young women like me when it comes to obtaining a space in a shelter, which was why the officer could not find me a safe-house for over 2 hours, calling around GA. When I finally found new so-called home in the International Women’s House in Stone Mountain, GA, I faced with the law again as my Driver’s License, I found out, was expired, so I had suspended registration and no proof of insurance as Mister Right cut it off that very day I left him. I now had 5 traffic citations and had to appear before the trial and defend myself. It took humanity and kindness of the Judge to dismiss my case when she heard my story and saw my letter from the shelter and from the psychiatrist who worked with me at that time. The law in this area is not fully developed in the United States and does not anticipate such situations as the one described above, to which many immigrant-women can relate throughout America.
Temporary Protective Order.
Mister Right was now looking for me everywhere and stalking me on the phone, my e-mail and by text-messaging. Not only was I fearful and concerned about my life and safety, but it also negatively affected my mental conditions. Between April 9th and May 2nd of 2009, I had received 242 e-mails, 234 text-messages, 56 calls and 28 voice-mails from my abuser, so on May 2nd a lady-police-officer answered Mister Right’s call on my phone and informed him that we were filing for a TPO.
According to GAFamilyLaw.com, a Temporary Protective Order (TPO) is a legal document issued by a court to help victims obtain protection from persons abusing, harassing, or stalking them. A TPO will generally prohibit contact between parties and may remove or restrict someone from a certain place or residence.
Based on printed screen shots of my phone and copies of the e-mails I mentioned before, I obtained a TPO against my abuser, which immediately put him out of work and he had to move out of state, which gave me peace of mind.
From May to August 2009 I was looking for an immigration attorney to assist me with my expired paperwork as Mister Right never filed to update my status after we had gotten married. I now faced with the law again when was requested to proof good faith of mine when I had entered the marriage, as well as the fact of actual marital relationship and my good moral character. The challenge was to find a lawyer who would represent me on a pro-bono basis. Immigration Legal Services accepted my case in August of 2009, which gave me an opportunity to finally renew my Driver’s License based on my updated status, so that I was able to get around, meet new people, volunteer, work as a nanny and a house- keeper, earn some leaving, learn English and put my life back together. In August of 2010, I received my permanent status and a 10-year Green Card, after which I was hired to work for Magistrate Court of Fulton County which allowed me to move to my own apartment and become an equal member of the society.
The challenge of the journey here was that the law in the United States does not help to connect the dots for women-immigrants to help them survive Domestic Violence. For example, without SSN you are not allowed to work. To obtain a SSN, you have to have your immigration status current. To have your immigration status current, your husband (who is often the abuser) has to file it for you. If you work with no SSN, you may be pressed with legal charges and will not obtain a legal immigration status. If you don’t obtain a legal status, you may not obtain a SSN….. Many women who experience abuse do not leave their violent partner because they know that the system will not protect them, in fact, may do just the opposite. 300 women in GA committed a suicide due to Domestic Violence because they had no hope and knew that the law would play against them if they broke-free.
Given the facts provided, Mister Right filed for an annulment of our marriage in May of 2009, and a process server served me in the parking garage of the Dekalb Co court house where I appeared to receive my TPO. Not only did Mister Right requested the annulment, but also a compensation of $80,000 from me and my departure from the United States. While in the shelter, I had to call and visit many attorneys only to find out I had to pay thousands of dollars upfront for them to take my case. At the legal clinic of Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence, I met with an attorney from Atlanta Legal Aid Society who later that month announced that, after hearing about my story and seeing my evidences, his colleagues voted to accept my case. After a long-long battle, I obtained so desired divorce in March of 2010, and became forever grateful for the help and support of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. From that month till this day, I became a dedicated volunteer at Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence and a Domestic Violence advocate for women.
The challenge here is that the law only provides some protection for victims of Domestic Violence and their children. Women-immigrants cannot defend themselves during the divorce process, so they are always in need of legal assistance, which requires financial resources that abused women usually do not have.
According to Speaker’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, when trying to exit a violent situation and obtain services and protections for themselves, many survivors of Domestic Violence report that the processes and procedures they navigate as while seeking legal protection and support services are fragmented, confusing and not user-friendly. “
You can watch some of this story if you click here.
I welcome your comments. Share this with those you think may be in need.