NAU’s Family Violence Institute receives grant to increase legal services for rural crime victims

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The Family Violence Institute at Northern Arizona University is one of three sites selected for a grant intended to increase the availaibity of legal services to rural crime victims.

The grant came from the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI), which received a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) to increase access to legal services for rural crime victims leveraging innovative, technological approaches combined with training, outreach and community partnerships.

A core aspect of that project includes NCVLI granting three direct service locations in rural communities. Following a competitive selection process, during which NCVLI received applications from 21 states, NCVLI selected the Family Violence Institute, which will operate in Santa Cruz County, along with Montana Legal Services Association and the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network.

“This project is truly exciting both because each site will uniquely leverage technology to help victims in their communities, and because together we can advance the intersection of law and technology to improve victim services,” said Meg Garvin, executive director of NCVLI.

The Family Violence Institute, led by Kathleen Ferraro, Neil Websdale and Ray Chaira, received the $750,000, two-year Sustainable Technology Resources & Interventions for Victim Empowerment (STRIVE) grant to help support the development and implementation of technological innovations to overcome barriers to safety and justice for crime victims.

“Victims of crime, especially domestic violence, face barriers to seeking safety and justice due to a limited number of service providers, lack of transportation, victim intimidation and immigration concerns,” Ferraro said.

Santa Cruz criminal justice and social service providers agree that crime is underreported and victims often drop out of the criminal justice process. For example, sexual assault is a frequent occurrence for women migrating to the United States from Central and South America, yet only 38 reports of sexual assault were received by the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office and Nogales Police Department between October 2016 and November 2017—12 of which the County Attorney’s Office prosecuted.

Underreporting may reflect worries about immigration status, shame, lack of information about the law (e.g. marital rape is not a crime in some home countries), victim intimidation or reliance on informal sources of support. Providers also agree that domestic violence is underreported due to the fear the victim, their family or their abuser may be deported in addition to the restraints all domestic violence victims confront in reaching out for help.

“The project will be implemented through a local, Spanish speaking coordinator who can support victims and allay their fears of the system and their abusers,” Ferraro said. “We hope that it will empower victims through increased access to culturally relevant services to enhance their safety and enforce their rights as victims.”

STRIVE will provide bilingual tele-legal services for temporary orders of protection, rights enforcement and pro-bono legal intakes and develop a mobile victim app providing easy access to relevant documents and information.

It is anticipated that the sites will begin serving victims under the projects in fall 2019. Up-to-date information on the progress of the project can be found online.

NAU Communications