By Meghan Kempf
Equal Justice Works
Violence knows no bounds; no age; no identity; no capacity. The very first case I worked on as a student attorney involved the double homicide of a 10-year-old girl and her mother by the child’s father. The idea that someone would think to take a life, much less the life of his own child, was completely unfathomable to me. My client was the grandmother of the child and was seeking disposition rights to the remains of her grandchild. One of the first things my client told me about her granddaughter was how she dreamed of being a teacher. As a legacy to her granddaughter’s dream, my former client now works with non-profit organizations to empower and educate victims of domestic violence about how to attain and sustain lives of independence.
Knowledge. That is how violence against women and girls will be ended.
Knowledge enables an individual to identify and consequently obtain the tools he or she needs to achieve self-sufficiency. The actualization of one’s goals and dreams is an incomparably strong catalyst for self-respect. There is dignity in living an independent life. Dignity is what has been taken from many of the victims of domestic violence. The abuser has managed to degrade, disempower, and overshadow every action of his or her victim, making it impossible for the abused to live her own life.
Knowledge of how to build the foundations of an independent life is what allows a victim to exist outside of the control of her abuser, and to break the cycle of violence for themselves and future generations. Knowledge of legal rights, financial resources, housing options, job training and educational opportunities can provide a person with the necessary tools to completely transform their life.
Texas Access to Justice Foundation has enabled my Equal Justice Works Fellowship, which provides litigation services to enforce and modify existing court orders for victims of domestic violence at Family Violence Prevention Services, Inc. Through advocacy, I assist victims in identifying and obtaining the resources and rights they are legally entitled to, but have been denied. While court orders granting victims access to resources and safety are essential for achieving independence from abusers, for any real benefit to accrue, those orders must be enforced.
Additionally, I have developed comprehensive training for local law enforcement, legal professionals, and victims to enable those parties to effectively identify and prevent violations of court orders. The desired outcome is not only to deter violations of court orders regarding domestic violence, but, most importantly, to help victims and their families achieve protection and stability through an understanding of their legal rights. The rationale for the educational program is this: the knowledge of legal rights must come from a community approach to maximize the recognition of violations, and to enable effective deterrence.
In many of my cases I witness my clients living through situations that define the very essence of struggle. They are courageously seeking to better their lives and to empower themselves to live free of conflict. I hope to carry on the legacy of knowledge that I learned from my first client by providing these inspiring survivors with the understanding and recognition of legal rights that is so essential to living a life free of violence.
Meghan Kempf is a 2012 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.