Legal Aid Success Stories - Safety
Clara found legal aid after being severely injured by Rafe, her partner of 25 years. He came home drunk and started destroying the walls. He flew into a rage when Clara finally said “enough is enough.” Concerned neighbors called 911 and watched as Clara was transported to the hospital with internal bleeding, a broken arm, and irreversible back and neck injuries. Despite years of horror, Clara only sought help when she saw how Rafe’s abuse was affecting her adult daughter and her young son, Diego. Legal aid helped Clara gain full custody of Diego and resolve over $15,000 of misdirected medical bills. They also helped her assume the mortgage that Rafe refused to pay after he moved out, collecting evidence to show that Clara had been contributing all along, although Rafe’s was the only name on the loan documents. After suffering at Rafe’s hands for decades, Clara credits her legal aid lawyer’s patience and skill for giving her the confidence she needed to overcome fear, stand up for her rights, and regain safety. She explained that her lawyer would say, “You can do this. Don’t panic. Just come along when you can.” Clara and her son Diego are an inspiration, as is the legal aid lawyer who is helping her navigate this long journey.
When Joan’s ex came to her home, violent and paranoid, she got her son Matty to safety and filed for a restraining order. When he kept returning and tormenting her and her neighbors, Joan’s landlord tried to evict her with only 24 hours’ notice. With nowhere to go, she felt like the world was falling down around her. She went to the legal aid office, where a lawyer calmly picked up the phone to explain to the landlord that victims of domestic violence cannot be evicted because of the actions of their abusers. Joan has a right to stay safe in her home. The landlord immediately withdrew the eviction and Joan and her neighbors remain vigilant as she continues to build a stable and safe life with the legal protections that are rightfully hers.
Emily’s husband was physically and emotionally abusive and the violence was escalating: he had recently tried to choke her in front of their three young daughters, made threats to kill her, and kept a gun hidden from her. Emily and the girls moved to a shelter. Domestic violence victim advocates helped Emily apply for a restraining order, and when her husband challenged the order, they set up a meeting with a legal aid lawyer to assist her in court. Her lawyer helped her prepare and represented her at the hearing. The judge upheld the order, keeping the restraining order in place and providing for safe, supervised parenting time. With the constant fear of violence out of the way, the family feels safer and able to find more stable housing.
Theresa lives in a trailer on a rural piece of land she inherited from her father. She is developmentally disabled, and a series of strokes had limited her even more. Her son moved in with her and began behaving erratically, destroying things, and refusing to muzzle his aggressive pit bull. One day the dog attacked Theresa and ripped her arm to the bone. After being hospitalized for several surgeries and grafts, she was afraid to come home and instead stayed with a friend. She tried to apply for a restraining order, but was told by the court clerk she could not appear by phone. Legal aid took her case and reapplied, citing the statute that allows an elder or disabled person to testify for a restraining order by phone. She told the judge about her son’s violence and her fear. The judge granted the restraining order and her son was removed by the police. She is able to feel secure in her home again.
Fatima came to the US for a marriage arranged by her family. Her husband was physically abusive and kept her as a prisoner in her home — she was not allowed to leave unless he accompanied her. She knew she needed to get away, but was not sure how to do it. She saved up quarters from doing laundry and one day was able to escape. She took a bus to the only building she had been to downtown – the immigration building. They referred her to legal aid, who helped with her divorce and obtaining custody of her five year-old son. She is now raising her son in a safe household and is no longer held back from fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse.
Angela and her children lived in fear as they watched their husband and father spiral into mental illness. He refused treatment, became erratic, and verbally, physically, and sexually abusive until Angela said, “Enough.” She obtained a restraining order, and when that did not work, filled out the proper paperwork to move from her apartment with the kids to find a safe place. Her husband contested the restraining order and her landlord attempted to evict her for terminating the lease early. Angela was worried about her safety and the impact an eviction would have on her ability to find housing in the future. Legal aid assisted her with the restraining order hearing, and also got the eviction dismissed. Legal aid helped her renew the restraining order a year later, and her husband eventually filed for divorce. Today, Angela has full custody of the children and their father, who is getting help for his mental illness, is redeveloping relationships with them through regular, supervised parenting time.
Ruth was recovering from surgery in a wheelchair when her husband of several decades grabbed her and yelled at her in a public place. She felt deeply humiliated, and the reaction from those around her was a life-changing moment. “Unless we have someone to enlighten us about abused women, we have no idea what to do, or that you can walk out the door,” says Ruth. She contacted legal aid to help her get protection from his abuse for herself and for their teenage son, who is autistic. Ruth and her son have been thriving apart from the abuser. Ruth says, “I have a right to enjoy my life and our son has a right to explore every avenue out there and not be held back.” She wants everyone to know legal aid may have saved her life.
Margaret is 52 with three grown children. For years, she lived with physical abuse and threats from her husband. After she insisted he move out, he threatened her and her family. Terrified, she called the police, who told her to get a stalking order. She didn’t know how to get one, so she contacted a domestic violence shelter, and the shelter connected her with legal aid. Legal aid lawyers helped her get a protective order, stay safe at work when her husband began stalking her there, and get spousal support so she can complete a vocational program and become self-sufficient. Margaret said, “It was heaven-sent, being able to go to legal aid and get some help when I was between a rock and a hard place and had no money for a lawyer.”
Beth, age 31, thought she was finally safe. She was focused on taking care of her son, Kaiden, who was born with only one kidney and asthma. But then Kaiden’s father, Frank, came back. He had beaten her while she was pregnant, and when Kaiden was four, he turned up again at her home, kicked down her door, and threatened her. She was scared, but she got a restraining order on her own. She realized later that wouldn’t be enough to keep Kaiden safe. Legal aid helped her get a custody order, and at the hearing, her legal aid lawyer had records to show the judge that Frank was lying when Frank said he had no previous assault convictions. Beth likely would not have known how to do that if she had been on her own. Now Kaiden and Beth are building a safe, stable life, free from Frank’s abuse.
Marie used her body to shield her children, Joey and Sarah (not pictured), from her abusive husband, taking the brunt of his abuse. She saw the emotional toll the abuse was taking on Joey and Sarah and wanted to get away, but she needed help. Legal aid helped Marie obtain a restraining order and temporary custody. Her message to other survivors of domestic violence is, “it’s not easy, but there is help and hope.” Today, Marie is on the road to stabilizing life for herself and her children.
Helen is the mother of five young daughters, all under the age of 11. She endured serious domestic violence at the hands of her husband, which her children often witnessed. Helen’s religious beliefs kept her from showing her injuries to the police, so the police could not arrest her husband. When Helen’s husband threw her out of the home and denied her requests to see the children, Helen turned to legal aid for help. With the assistance of legal aid, she obtained a restraining order so she and her children could be safe. Legal aid continued to represent Helen through her divorce, and ultimately obtained a favorable decision on her behalf regarding custody and child support. Helen and her daughters are now safe from the violence they suffered every day.
Charlene is 68 years old and she has breast cancer. She has Medicare, but she still had so many doctor bills that she could barely make ends meet, so she decided to rent out her spare room. But the man who moved in scared her. He threatened her, and when she asked him to pay his rent, he charged at her like he was going to hit her. She was afraid, so she went to court by herself and got a restraining order, and when the judge made him leave her house, she thought the whole nightmare was over. But then the man sued her, saying that she should pay his hotel and food bills for the time after the judge ordered him out of her house. She didn’t think she could handle the lawsuit on her own, especially because the cancer treatments made her confused--a condition called “chemo brain.” So Charlene called legal aid. She said, "Legal aid came to my rescue and helped me. They said he can’t bother me anymore." After winning her case, Charlene was relieved to have the situation over with with so she could concentrate on getting better.
Mary was 84 years old and because she had dementia, her daughter was appointed as her guardian/conservator. Mary’s daughter sold Mary’s home, stole the proceeds, and threatened to move Mary to foster care in another county. Mary was referred to legal aid by county protective services. Legal aid stopped the move and also worked to recover the stolen funds and property, some of which went into a supplemental needs trust for Mary.
Tara's abusive husband continually violated the restraining order she had obtained. Tara felt the situation was dangerous, so she left a secure job and moved with her young son to another city. When the Employment Department denied her claim for temporary unemployment benefits, she was cut off from the only means of support available during her search for a new job. Legal aid helped her challenge the decision and the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. Tara also testified before the state legislature, helping to refine a law that allows others in her situation to receive their unemployment benefits so they can escape domestic violence.
Anna could see that her son Juan was in danger. His father was abusive to Anna and, when he was drinking, he was abusive and neglectful towards Juan. Legal aid helped Anna get an order requiring supervised parenting time. When Juan’s father attacked the supervisor, legal aid helped end the father’s parenting time.
Karri thought she might lose custody of her children, Austin and Colleen. Although she obtained a divorce from her abusive husband more than two years ago, he continued to visit the children, and those visits sometimes ended with violence against Karri. In an odd twist, Karri’s ex-husband accused her of physically attacking him. He filed for a restraining order and asked for full custody of Austin and Colleen. Legal aid represented Karri at the restraining order hearing, winning Karri’s case and revealing evidence that helped the district attorney prosecute Karri’s husband for domestic violence. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Karri is making a fresh start with her family in a new location.
Tammy’s husband severely abused her for many years, and kept her a prisoner in their rural, remote home. She obtained a restraining order, but he broke into her home and attacked her in front of their three-year-old daughter, Turquoise. Tammy was seriously injured and he was charged with attempted murder. Legal aid helped Tammy obtain a divorce. Tammy also has an aggressive form of cancer, and was very concerned about what would happen to Turquoise should Tammy pass away. Legal aid helped her find an attorney to handle her estate planning matters pro bono, including provisions to keep Turquoise safe. Tammy has a strong desire to keep living, improve herself, and provide a better life for her daughter.
Claudia and her 5-year-old son, Ryan, were living with Chris, Ryan’s father. Chris would frequently yell and act aggressively. Claudia was concerned about the effect this was having on Ryan — he was so afraid of loud noises that he would cling to her legs when Chris was screaming at her. Then, after disappearing for over a week, Chris returned to the apartment with a pickup truck saying that he met someone new, was leaving Claudia, and wanted his belongings. Claudia let him in, but she was afraid that he would hurt her or take Ryan when he left. The next day Chris returned again and this time began to take items that didn’t belong to him. Claudia locked him out and called the police, fearing for her safety. Claudia also called legal aid. Legal aid helped Claudia file a restraining order. Once the restraining order was granted, Claudia stopped hearing from Chris. She and Ryan now feel safe.
Brenda, 36, has five children between the ages of seven and fifteen. For more than 17 years, Brenda’s husband physically abused her, and isolated her and the children from family, friends, and neighbors. He would not allow her to get a job or send the children to school outside their home. Finally, after a terrifying threat from her husband, Brenda and the children fled to a domestic violence shelter and called legal aid. Legal aid helped Brenda obtain a restraining order and a divorce. Brenda said, “My legal aid attorney gave me courage and backed me up when I was scared and wanted to give up.” Now that the family is safe, Brenda plans to attend nursing school, and the children are thriving in their new school.
Cara had a new baby and was in an intensely controlling, abusive relationship with the baby’s father, Darren. Cara was afraid to sleep, turn her back on Darren, or leave the baby alone because Darren would shake the baby and make graphic threats of how he would end the child’s life. Cara went to a counselor for help, as she wanted advice before risking herself and her child by leaving her abuser. The counselor recommended legal aid who, along with the Family Law Resource Center, helped Cara file for custody. Legal aid also assisted Cara with safety planning because the point of separation presents the greatest risk to victims of domestic violence. Cara was once an unemployed mother without a close social network; now she has a custody order, a new and exciting job, plans for college in the future, housing of her own, and a happy and playful toddler. Cara said that legal aid made her “feel like a person” and “feel hope again.”
Terry and her sons, Lane and Charlie, lived in fear of her abusive husband. He forced them to move each time neighbors or school officials discovered his abuse. Once he made them move in the middle of the night without any of their belongings. Terry wanted to protect her sons, so she got a restraining order, but her husband fought the order. That’s when she called legal aid. Legal aid helped her keep the restraining order and get a divorce. Terry’s husband also filed fraudulent tax returns and signed Terry’s name, and legal aid helped her to resolve that. After legal aid helped them, she and her boys were able to move into a safe house on a quiet street, and Terry found work as a nurse assistant in a local hospital.
Bethanne, a single mother of four, needed help to be safe from her ex-husband. During her marriage, Bethanne experienced emotional and physical abuse. After the divorce was finalized, her ex-husband escalated his threatening behavior. When Bethanne found a picture of herself and her children torn up in her driveway and then heard that her ex-husband had told friends that he, “wanted to get a gun and kill his ex-wife,” she turned to legal aid for help. Legal aid assisted Bethanne to get a stalking protective order to help her and the kids stay safe. Bethanne told us, “I couldn’t have gotten the stalking protective order alone. There are too many laws that I didn’t know. My legal aid attorney allowed me to have a voice.”
Lori is a working mom with two children. She sought help from legal aid the same week her restraining order hearing was set. Her abuser had recently kicked her and given her a black eye, and Lori explained to her legal aid lawyer that there was a long history of assault. She was terrified. Lori’s legal aid lawyer explained that they provide attorneys to domestic violence survivors in restraining order hearings when possible, either by assigning a legal aid attorney to the case or by referring the case to a volunteer lawyer. When this is not possible due to stretched resources, legal aid lawyers will offer emergency advice for self-representation. In Lori’s case, legal aid provided brief advice and support so that Lori could successfully represent herself at the hearing. The restraining order was upheld and she kept custody of her children. As Lori prepares for hearings on a divorce from her abuser, she feels her family is safe.
Madeline’s two sons, Robert and Cody, are six and nine years old. Her husband, Henry, was sent to prison for physically abusing Madeline while she was pregnant with Robert. After Henry’s release from prison, he began threatening Madeline. She sought a restraining order on her own, but the judge denied it. Early one morning, Henry went to Madeline’s house and kicked in the door. Madeline called the police and they arrested Henry. Worried that she would again be unsuccessful in seeking protection from the courts on her own, Madeline sought help from legal aid. They helped her obtain a restraining order and get a divorce from Henry, with terms designed to protect Madeline, Robert, and Cody. Madeline told her legal aid attorney “Thank you for walking this entire walk with me. Even though I may seem calm, cool, and collected through it all, it was a rough choice to make, and I am so very thankful you guys were there to help me and the boys through it.”
Molly and her ex moved to Oregon from Virginia with their 4 year-old daughter Olivia in hopes of a better life. When the domestic violence she had previously endured continued to escalate after their move, Molly knew she needed to leave to protect her daughter. As soon as Molly received information about a domestic violence shelter, she knew it was time for her to leave with Olivia. Molly filed for custody soon thereafter, only to find out that her ex had already filed for custody in Virginia. Legal aid successfully represented Molly in her custody case and now she and Olivia are safe from harm. She told CEJ that, “it was such a big relief to know that I would have someone there to help me.” Having a legal aid attorney meant that she could use her paycheck for rent and groceries.
Tina’s husband sexually assaulted her when she was recovering from an injury, so she and her children fled to safety and Tina got a restraining order. She sought help from legal aid when her husband got an attorney and requested a hearing. Tina’s legal aid lawyer assisted her through the legal processes of determining parenting time and resolving ongoing issues with the restraining order. She also helped answer Tina’s questions about the criminal process, and ultimately, helped her with filing paperwork for divorce. Tina’s husband is now serving time for the sexual assault. Tina works from home while her children are in day care, and she receives ongoing services to help her heal from her trauma.