Desiree Sedehi '12
Advocating for victims of domestic violence
As a Verizon Public Interest Fellow, Desiree Sedehi '12 reflects on her experience providing legal assistance and advocacy for this underserved population.
On June 7, 2011, I woke up at five o’clock in the morning and spent two hours analyzing the text of a final restraining order, memorizing every word. The truth is that I did not know what to expect on my first day at Partners for Women and Justice. Somehow, in my third year law student mind, I thought that if I read and re-read the text of the FRO, I would be better prepared for my summer.
I had no background in domestic violence law. I knew basic facts on domestic violence (statistics I had researched on Google), and had read a few cases and statutes on child custody and divorce proceedings. I had also watched a lot of Lifetime movies, which I naively believed would give me some background. I was not emotionally prepared, however, for the true, hard facts surrounding domestic violence: the repeated exploitation that breaks down a woman’s emotional and physical strength, buried tales of dreadful child abuse, and most of all, the startling cyclical nature of it all which posits that a woman will go back to her batterer an average of seven times before she finally leaves for good. The world of domestic violence is no walk in the park, and I spent the first week feeling a bit defeated and even cynical about my tribe, the female race. This sadness reached an all-time high when I had a client tell me she was grateful that she had given birth to sons, because every woman in her family had fallen victim to an abusive man. This week was difficult, and I found comfort in Michelle, my fellow intern, who, similarly, was experiencing some beginner’s shock.
In my second week, however, I found hope in the strangest place: in the domestic violence plaintiff’s waiting room, a small, crowded area, located in Family court in Newark, New Jersey. As I sat with our client, who had just been granted a motion to relocate with her children, I had a moment where I no longer felt so pessimistic. I suddenly felt hopeful. I could not hold back the tears and I sat there with our client, in public, as we cried together and hugged each other. She told me she finally felt free from her husband, a man who had belittled and oppressed her for years. I realized then that I had made some difference, however small, in helping her obtain the legal means to move forward with her life. If I continued to make these small steps throughout the rest of the summer and my legal career, I thought, I could truly make a difference.
And so I began on my journey: conducting domestic violence intakes, preparing victims and witnesses for court appearances, and researching and writing motions and briefs on domestic violence, child custody, and relocation matters. With every task, I felt more hopeful, and I began to feel a sense of sisterhood with these women and with my colleagues, as we aimed towards this greater goal of ending domestic violence one case at a time.
I was blessed to have met and worked with some of the strongest, most selfless women and men I have ever met in my life. I was even more blessed to have the privilege to receive a Verizon Public Interest Fellowship through the Verizon Foundation, which ensured that I could dedicate my summer to assisting low-income victims of domestic violence.
The Verizon Foundation paved the way for my life-changing summer experience, and I am consistently moved by the philanthropic work they do for domestic violence victims and their families. These advocates, both at Partners and at the Verizon Foundation, made me, an amateur, a true believer in the power of a small non-profit organization and its drive in helping thousands of low-income, abused women find their legal voice and advocate for their rights.
One in four women will be the victim of domestic violence in her lifetime. This statistic, shared with me during my training prior to the start of my summer at Partners for Women and Justice, is one that I can’t seem to get off my mind. It reminds me of how much of an epidemic domestic violence is and it reminds me that, no matter how much is done for one woman to help her get out of an abusive relationship, there are still many more women who need the legal, emotional, and social support to combat domestic violence. My work at Partners for Women and Justice made me realize that these small steps, providing women with the legal representation they need, go a long way, and with hope, hard work, and compassion, we can help break the cycle.