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Verizon Public Interest Fellowship Program

Alliance addresses prevention of domestic violence

On a hot and humid July day in Newark, New Jersey, Seton Hall Law students, public interest attorneys, faculty, and individuals from Verizon New Jersey sat riveted as a mental health professional discussed the short- and long-term effects on children who are exposed to domestic violence.

“Imagine,” said Patricia Stern, LCSW, MPH, Coordinator of Child and Adolescent Services at Jewish Family Services MetroWest, “that a bear has entered our conference room. What happens? Our adrenaline rises and we are fully absorbed in surviving. We’re not really aware of anything else going on in the room because our focus is on the bear. Domestic violence creates this urgent and frightening atmosphere, either in the immediate presence of the bear or awaiting its return. For children in this environment, the impact is substantial. They have trouble concentrating, many are depressed. They may have physical health problems from so much anxiety and stress.”

The roundtable discussion, “Legal Intervention to Stop the Cycle of Domestic Violence,” was an integral part of an innovative project funded by the Verizon Foundation which supports domestic violence prevention. Seton Hall Law School, working in conjunction with Verizon and Jewish Family Services, placed law students in two New Jersey legal services organizations and the Office of the Law Guardian for 10-week “Verizon Summer Fellowships” and created a six-month Verizon Postgraduate Fellowship. In these settings, the Fellows provided free legal assistance to low-income families where domestic violence was taking place – to help secure the victim and children’s safety through legal interventions. The program also offers a psycho-educational program for batterers, as well as counseling for children.

As Stern explained, when there are no interventions in a home where domestic violence is taking place, the children learn that violence is an acceptable way to behave and that it is an inherent part of loving relationships. Sons who witness violence against their mothers are ten times more likely to become batterers or to abuse their own children. Daughters who witness domestic violence are less likely to question dating violence and more likely to become domestic violence victims.

Following Stern’s interactive presentation, the students and postgraduate fellow discussed actual cases and outcomes (changing names to protect client confidentiality). Between the psychosocial analysis provided by Stern and the legal stories provided by the Verizon Fellows, a clear picture of domestic violence and the role lawyers can play to assist in preventing continued violence was becoming clear.

“This unique program is particularly valuable,” says Claudette St. Romain, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Seton Hall Law School, “because it not only provides these organizations with much needed resources, but it’s important for the students to learn how to represent domestic violence survivors—a population with distinct and often challenging needs. It’s a win-win, because the students receive extraordinarily valuable training, and vulnerable women in our New Jersey community who might not otherwise be assisted are receiving legal counsel and representation, safeguarding not just them but their children, as well.”

For Douglas Schoenberger, Vice President of Public Policy at Verizon New Jersey, the July roundtable helped him see the impact of his Foundation grant dollars at work. “The Verizon Foundation has long had a commitment to addressing domestic violence. It’s a challenging problem deeply imbedded in our society, ruining generations at every turn. This partnership with Seton Hall Law and the other organizations involved in the program is a tremendous model for us because we are assisting multiple families in multiple ways. Various nonprofits are working together to address and prevent domestic violence, and these Verizon Fellows are future lawyers who are gaining an expertise and a commitment to combating domestic violence that will have impact for years to come. Women and children are breaking free and starting new lives. It’s gratifying to be a part of these success stories.”

Shown at the July 18 Verizon Public Interest Fellowship Program: Legal Intervention to Stop the Cycle of Domestic Violence Roundtable Discussion held at Seton Hall Law School, are, from left, rear, Claudette St. Romain, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Seton Hall Law School; Douglas Schoenberger, Vice President-Corporate Responsibility, Verizon; Zahra Bazmjow '10, Verizon Public Interest Postgraduate Fellow, Partners for Women and Justice; Jessica Miles, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, Seton Hall Law School; and, front, from left, Victoria Gonchar and Jessica Buffman, Verizon Summer Fellows, Office of the Law Guardian; Bethany Stein, Verizon Summer Fellow, Essex-Newark Legal Services; and Rotem Peretz, Verizon Summer Fellow, Legal Services of New Jersey.

Click here to learn more about the Verizon Public Interest Fellowship Program.