Most people are familiar with the criminal court system and know that when a case is brought to trial, the defendant has the right to an attorney (and is provided one by the government even if they cannot afford one), and the prosecutor represents the state in pursuing a conviction for the case. But what happens when a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or other violent crimes needs to go through the civil court system to access a legal remedy that is not provided by the criminal courts? The sad reality is that if a victim chooses to pursue a civil case, they have two choices: stand alone in the courtroom against their abuser and attempt to represent themselves, or try to find the money to hire an attorney. This pressure comes on top of the fact that they are, trying to summon the courage to take a stand against a person who has victimized them and, in many cases, exerted immense control over them for years. As a result, many individuals, particularly victims of crime, get left behind due to both the system’s complexity and lack of legal support.
That is where the Center for Victim and Human Rights (CVHR) steps in.
The CVHR is a nonprofit legal services organization working to empower and advance the safety of victims through legal representation and educational outreach. The two programs under which we assist our clients are the Crime Victim Rights Program and the Human Rights Program. It is through both of these that we help victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, human rights violations and other violent crimes get justice. This is done by representing them in cases that involve civil legal remedies for victims including, but not limited to, protection orders, paternity, U visas, T visas, and asylum cases. Through these and other civil legal remedies, victims are provided an attorney not only to help explain the complicated legal system but also to represent them in the courts.
The victims seeking justice in the civil court system can be anyone from a domestic violence victim escaping an abusive husband, to a foreigner fleeing their homeland because of religious, political, or other persecution, to a human trafficking victim brought here to serve as a sex slave or indentured “employee.” The thread that ties each of these types of crime victims together is that remedies exist in the realm of the civil court and immigration systems. However, due to the cost of acquiring an attorney and/or the complexity of the case, many victims either never pursue the remedies to which they are entitled or drop their cases before they are finished.
The reality is that finding affordable attorneys is a difficult task for any person, and especially for victims. In Indiana alone, the Center for Victim and Human Rights is one of only 4% of victim programs that provide direct legal assistance to a victim. Nationally, only 1 legal aid attorney is available per 6,415 low-income individuals. However, victimization knows no boundaries or income restrictions.
Needless to say, without organizations such as the CVHR, many victims would not be able to access the justice that is available to them via the civil court system. While there are no guarantees when it comes to the courts, the least we can do is provide victims an attorney that can adequately and effectively represent them in the process. We will stand by their side.