Wednesday, October 15, 2014

That Was Us!
Recognizing Battered Woman Syndrome as a Defense with Judith Bendor

By Judith Bendor

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In the early 1980s, Legal Voice (then known as the Northwest Women’s Law Center) was only a few years old, and was very concerned about domestic violence. In the 1980s battering was a deep secret, one of shame for the person who was beaten. Legal Voice wanted to change this.

Attorney Ellen Yaroshefsky represented defendant Sherrie Allery, who had been convicted of second degree murder in the death of her abusive husband. Yaroshefshy (now a distinguished Professor of Law and formerly with the Center for Constitutional Rights) asked Legal Voice to do an amicus brief. The trial court had not permitted the introduction of evidence of Battered Woman Syndrome, which was offered to explain why Ms. Allery had stayed with her husband even though he had beaten her badly; essentially, that the fact she stayed did not mean she was lying about the battering. Legal Voice agreed and I, then a recent law graduate, wrote the brief.

It was a privilege to write the brief—a really transformative experience. While working on the brief I learned about battering. I hoped that the Supreme Court judges could make their own journey on behalf of battered victims. At oral argument they asked probing questions. Yaroshefsky was magnificent. And it worked, as Sherrie Allery's conviction was overturned unanimously (682 P.2d 312 (Wash. 1984)). The case has been cited 440 times. Hooray!

But it is now 30 years later. The issue of battering is still very much with us—may there come a day when this is no longer true.

Judith Bendor was a member of Legal Voice’s Board of Directors from 1980-86, serving as Vice President, Chair of the Legal Committee and co-chair of a fundraising committee. She was an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, then appointed by Governor Gardner to serve on the Pollution Control and Shoreline Hearings Boards to 1992 and for almost two decades served as administrative hearings examiner for a variety of public entities in land use/environmental law. She is now an active Legal Voice volunteer.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Flag on the Play:
Off-the-Field Violence and the NFL

By Josh Bam

Domestic Violence Awareness Month began as a day in 1981 and evolved into a week-long observance soon after that. The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month occurred in October of 1987, the same year the first national domestic violence hotline became available.

This year, Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes at a revealing time in American history and women’s rights. One particularly visible series of events should be the starting point as we reflect on our fight against domestic violence.

It began with the Rice incident, where Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his wife in an elevator, knocking her unconscious. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially responded by suspending Rice for two games, but increased the sanction once a video of the assault became public. The increased punishment was indefinite suspension and termination of his $35 million contract.

Oh good, then it’s all sorted out.

Wrong. Even before this incident, the NFL had a long history of leniency when faced with domestic violence charges and convictions. Rice only received a strong penalty because his crime was caught on tape and released to the public.

Goodell and the League as a whole came under fire for the mishandling Rice’s punishment. The pressure led to a flurry of moves that seemed focused at saving the NFL’s reputation. In a letter from Goodell to league owners, Goodell made it clear that domestic violence and sexual assault “have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances.” He also introduced a new policy—six-game suspension for a first offense and a banishment of at least a year for a second offense. The letter then outlines a plan for League personnel to undergo training on the risk factors of domestic violence.

Less than a week later, the NFL was tested on its ability to follow-through with its new policies when San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony domestic violence charges. Under the League’s personal conduct policy players don’t have to be convicted of a crime to be disciplined, so McDonald was allowed to play the following week while the case was investigated.

The NFL also made substantial donations to domestic violence resources—including the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which says phone calls to the hotline spiked after the Rice incident—and hired two new consultants. Tony Porter, who works with A Call to Men, a violence prevention organization, and Beth Richie, a University of Illinois at Chicago gender studies professor, will begin working on a new domestic violence education and prevention policy for the NFL.

Policies and education only tackle one part of the problem. We also need to engage in open dialogue about the current culture of domestic violence complacence and what we can do about it.

In a self-penned essay for The Players Tribune, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said, “This issue is much bigger than NFL suspensions. Domestic violence isn’t going to disappear tomorrow or the next day. But the more that we choose not to talk about it, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose...For those of us in the NFL, there’s no excuse for violence off the field.”

While increased awareness isn’t the entire solution, a spotlight on the NFL and a public conversation about domestic violence needs to happen. We face a culture of leniency and blissful ignorance and to make progress requires open dialogue about real issues. This is the month those conversations should start.

More than one-third of women in the United States (approximately 42.4 million) have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. If you or someone you know is a survivor of physical, mental, sexual, or emotional, domestic abuse, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit

For help in Washington, you can reach the Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025. Self-help legal resources for domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking victims are available in the Tools to Help You section of the Legal Voice website.

Josh is an attorney in Seattle who works on a variety of corporate, business, and tax law issues. He also writes and edits for firms and nonprofits in the Seattle area and thoroughly enjoys preparing taxes with United Way of King County Free Tax Preparation Campaign. Josh currently serves as the Secretary for Seattle Select Attorneys Association and is involved in a few projects with Legal Voice’s Self-Help Committee. He is committed to working on access to justice and accessibility of the law issues.

Photo courtesy of babyknight.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Need Some Inspiration?

By Jamila Johnson

Each year, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announce the MacArthur Fellows. This prestigious group is comprised of superbly creative people—the folks who have made a unique impact on the world, but who could do even more with the $650,000 genius grant each receives. This year, the MacArthur Foundation recognized 21 individuals, nine of whom are women sure to inspire.
These are the women who little girls should dream about growing up to be. Shucks, these are the women that all women should dream about growing (more) up to be.

Meet civil rights lawyer Mary L. Bonauto. Her job is essentially about eliminating double standards in the law. In her role as Civil Rights Project Director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, she strives to create a world where everyone has freedoms and opportunities regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status. Bonauto has been instrumental in social reform litigation across the country for marriage equality as GLAD has been a true leader in the nation’s steps forward.

While most of Bonauto’s work has been in the courtroom, Sarah Deer—a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota—has been making her mark with trailblazing legislation. Deer focuses her work on gender violence on Indian reservations. A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Deer has been instrumental in the passage of The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 and the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Both laws hope to combat the problems in the legal structures that led to the under-prosecution of violence against native women.

Speaking of prosecution, Stanford professor and social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt has been changing views on criminal justice through her groundbreaking research on how stereotypes of African American criminal behavior impact much more than one might think. In the simplest terms, she focuses on how the association of African Americans with crime might matter at different points in the criminal justice system. From this lens she has contributed to conversations on various parts of the system, from “stand your ground” laws to prison inequities.

Cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel spent 25 years authoring and cartooning Dykes to Watch Out For—a paradigm-shifting comic that has been labeled one of the earliest ongoing representations of lesbians in pop culture. It was through a 1985 issue of this comic that Bechdel introduced us to what would later become known as the Bechdel test, a simple, three-question test that sets a baseline for gender parity in film. She has gone on to address a number of personal stories in book-length graphic memoirs and is changing society’s notions of the contemporary memoir and expanding the graphic form while telling her unique story.

While Bechdel expends memoirs, labor organizer Ai-jen Poo is expanding rights for domestic or private-household workers. Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance where she fights for the estimated 1–2 million domestic workers—housekeepers, nannies, caregivers for the elderly or disabled—in the United States today that are excluded from most federal and state labor laws. Poo is sparking a movement seeking improved working conditions for millions of workers across the nation.

Physicist Danielle Bassett may be only 32, but she is causing quite a stir with her research. Basset is using tools from network science and complex systems theory to enhance our understanding of connectivity and organizational principles in the human brain. Her work is uncovering insights on learning, disease diagnostics and therapeutics, and treatment of brain injury. Additionally, she is contributing to numerous other disciplines as faculty at University of Pennsylvania.

University of Washington alumna Tami Bond is taking on a tricky problem. She is working to unravel the global effects of black carbon emissions on climate and human health, which may have the potential effect of helping millions breathe cleaner air. A professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Bond is developing research that may discover the role of energy in our climate system and just might save the world.

Curious about engineering in Rome during the late Sixteenth Century? Seventy-one year old Pamela O. Long is the expert. This independent historian focuses on the history of science and technology in the fifteenth and sixteenth century and has had great success with her books Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance (2001) and Artisan/Practitioners and the Rise of the New Sciences (2011). The grant will help her finish her latest book on the infrastructure development of Rome and the way society interacts with the creation of infrastructure.

But Long is not the only historian on the list—Professor of East European History Tara Zahra focuses on the history of modern Europe challenging the idea that there is anything inevitable about national conflict or the development of national identity and belonging. She has been getting at this question through the lens of children and by delving into the mobilization of children. She is currently working on a book about immigration from East Central Europe. Zahra is looking at how it affects a society to have one tenth of a population leaving during the course of one generation. She hopes to take more risks and go to new archives to figure out how better to link her work to present day challenges in migration.

These women are truly transformative and an inspiration for all.

Jamila Johnson serves on the Board of Directors at Legal Voice and eagerly awaits the release of MacArthur Foundation genius grants each year collecting role models.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

That Was Us!
Reinterpreting Immigrant Provisions of the Violence Against Women Act with Grace Huang

By Grace Huang

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In 2002 and 2003, in my capacity as a steering committee member of what was then known as the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women (NNEVAIW), I had the privilege of working in partnership with Laura Luis Hernandez, Legal Voice (or Northwest Women's Law Center, as it was then called), and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), in a case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The case involved the interpretation of the provisions of the 1994 federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allow for someone to defend herself against deportation if she is married to a U.S Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident, and that spouse has physically abused her or subjected her to extreme cruelty.

In Ms. Luis Hernandez' case, her permanent resident husband was violent and abusive, but all of the physical abuse took place in their home country, and she had fled to the United States. Under the law at the time, a VAWA applicant was required to prove he or she was physically abused or subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S. (the law has since changed), and her case had been denied by an immigration judge, who had found that none of the relevant abusive behavior had taken place in the U.S.

It was clear to Sara Ainsworth (staff attorney at Legal Voice) and the attorneys at NWIRP that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Immigration Judge had misapplied the law, based on their lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence, which involves an ongoing pattern of controlling and coercive behavior, including the physical violence.

However, to even get to the merits of the Immigration Judge's decision, Ms. Luis Hernandez had to overcome a jurisdictional hurdle disallowing review of this misapplication of the law. Federal immigration law specifies that there is no judicial review of decisions that are left in the "discretion" of the Immigration Court. Through the amazing collaborative efforts of Legal Voice, its pro-bono counsel Kay Frank, Rima Alaily, and Angela Niemann, NWIRP, and NNEVAIW, we were able to persuade the Ninth Circuit in Hernandez v. Ashcroft. In the end, the Court agreed with us that the interpretation of what constitutes "extreme cruelty" is a legal determination and not a purely discretionary decision, that the Court had jurisdiction to review the erroneous decision of the Immigration Judge, and that Ms. Luis Hernandez had been stalked and subjected to extreme cruelty in the U.S., and was therefore eligible for the protections under VAWA.

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to see Ms. Luis Hernandez again in person, and am thrilled to say she is thriving and continues to be grateful for the efforts that Legal Voice and the legal community put in to assist not only her, but immigrant survivors of domestic violence throughout the country.

Grace Huang is the Public Policy Coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide organization of over 70 domestic violence shelter and advocacy programs. At WSCADV, Grace has had the opportunity to work alongside Legal Voice, in partnership with amazing survivors of domestic violence, to bring their experiences to the legislature, court system, and administrative agency policy making processes. In between meetings, Grace enjoys watching her child cheer on the Seattle Mariners, WSCADV's strong partner in the 'Refuse to Abuse' domestic violence prevention campaign.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seattle to Join National Movement Affirming a Woman's Right to Abortion Shouldn't Be Decided by How Much Money She Makes

By Jenny Dodson Mistry

Since 1976, federal dollars have been withheld from covering abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the pregnant woman. That precludes even a health exception for women who qualify for federal insurance plans, jeopardizing the well-being of women with serious medical complications during pregnancy.

These unfair limitations are imposed not only on families who use Medicaid, but also on women who qualify for other government-sponsored insurance programs, including military personnel, female veterans who receive coverage from the VA, federal employees, Native American women who utilize the Indian Health Service, women in federal prison and Peace Corps volunteers.

Discrimination in benefits for eligible women threatens what is, for many, an already precarious financial situation. The unexpected expense of an abortion can have devastating consequences, particularly on low-income families who already struggle to pay for basic necessities like food and rent.

Out of frustration with this insidious inequality in access to reproductive health care that effectively puts abortion out of reach for many women, a national movement to restore funding for abortion has evolved. Cities across the country are leading that charge, both through grassroots efforts and local government action. On the grassroots front, the All* Above All “Be Bold Road Trip” is traveling to cities across the nation, engaging scores of activists who are fed up with politicians withholding health care benefits from women for political reasons.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health has worked with cities and localities across the country— such as Travis County, Texas; New York City; Philadelphia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts—to pass local resolutions advocating for coverage of all pregnancy-related care, including annual check-ups, prenatal care, maternity care, family planning and abortion. We are so excited that Seattle could be next on that list! Seattle City Council is currently considering a resolution urging President Obama and Congress to repeal all federal bans on public coverage of abortion. Championed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell and sponsored by Legal Voice and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, this resolution would encourage federal lawmakers to reinstate insurance coverage for abortion services for women enrolled in public insurance programs—including the more than 4,000 Seattle women of reproductive age insured through the federal government.

The State of Washington is already a leader on this issue, as one of just 17 states that uses its own funds to provide coverage for abortion. By calling on the federal government to follow its example, Seattle is seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the full impact that autonomy in medical decisions has not only on women’s health, but also on the economic stability of our most vulnerable communities.

By joining the growing chorus of communities calling for decisive action to eliminate health care inequality, Seattle is taking a bold stand to improve the lives of women across all 50 states.

Jenny Dodson Mistry is the Manager of Local Initiatives at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, where she gets the opportunity to support organizations doing proactive work on the city and county level all across the country. She is inspired by the resolute and creative activists that have made cities a beacon for the progressive movement, and in her spare time, likes to travel to as many of these cities as she can.


Do you want to take a stand and affirm the idea that all women deserve access to insurance coverage of abortion? Here's how you can get involved:
- Talk about it: Tell your family, friends, and Congress why this issue matters to you. Join us in a Tweet Storm on Thursday, September 4, from 1-2 p.m. PDT. For sample social media posts, please email Sarah MacDonald, Legal Voice Marketing & Communications Manager.

- Write a Council Member: The best way to ensure decisions coming out of your local city council are aligned with your values is to tell your local council members what your values are! We encourage you to write to Seattle City Council Members and tell them why they should pass this resolution. Whether you share a personal story or use our sample letter (also available by emailing Sarah), your voice matters.

- Sign the petition: Join the national movement by signing All* Above All's petition asking members of Congress to support lifting all restrictions on coverage of abortion care.