Concerned people worldwide observe Nov. 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, bringing attention to the stories of women like Preeta Gabba, Barbara Giomarelli and H.T.
Gabba, from India, and Giomarelli, originally from Italy, were among the 24 women known to have died in Maryland between July 2013 and June 2014 as a result of domestic violence.
The plight of woment such as Gabba and Giomarelli are the focus of the U.N.-designated observance, which marks the start of 16 days of activism preceding Human Rights Day, Dec. 10.
Gabba was shot by her ex-husband in October 2013. Giomarelli was shot by her husband in November 2013, when he also killed their 3-month-old son.
In 2008, a third Maryland woman, identified as H.T., was kicked and punched by her now-ex-husband until her face, mouth and both eyes were swollen and her mouth was full of blood. The immigrant from Cameroon did not seek help at the time.
H.T. was driving a day later when she had a car accident, in which her injury-impaired eyesight was a factor. Fortunately for her, the police officer who responded to the scene took time with H.T. She received help, including medical treatment and a protective order. her husband was arrested and she was on the road to safety and peace.
After cooperating in the criminal case, H.T. received her U non-immigrant status and is now a legal permanent resident, thanks to the help of the Multi-Ethnic Domestic Violence Project, (MEDOVI), a program of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland. Thankfully, there are services and immigration benefits for foreign-born survivors of domestic violence and other serious crimes to help prevent deaths like Gabba’s and Giomarelli’s. However, without awareness of such benefits and quality affordable representation, many victims are left without hope.
The Women’s Law Center is recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) as a charitable nonprofit with attorneys and accredited staff to assist people their immigration legal needs. MEDOVI provides free immigration legal services to Maryland residents who are victims of domestic violence, human trafficking or sexual assault. These giving them the chance to live and work legally in the United States, leading to safer, more peaceful lives.
Using the legal avenues provided by the Violence Against Women Act, the MEDOVI project and other legal service providers like the Center for Trauma and Resilience in Denver, Colorado, help survivors apply for U visas or other forms of immigration relief.
One of the goals of social service agencies and law enforcement is to prevent such deaths as Gabba’s and Giomarelli’s. The task is made more challenging if providers and law enforcement never get the chance to interact with victims in time to help them with safety planning, shelter and protective orders. This is especially true of immigrant victims who are threatened by their abusers with deportation or losing access to their children if they try to escape domestic violence.
Staff at both MEDOVI and the Center for Trauma and Resilience received training and technical assistance from CLINIC’s OVW project to earn BIA recognition and accreditation.
The challenge of also dealing with unsettled immigration status puts those who are subject to abuse at a severe disadvantage. BIA recognition and staff accreditation is the Department of Justice’s system for training non-attorneys to provide certain immigration legal services as authorized representatives. Increasing the number of BIA-recognized agency locations and accredited staff is essential to respond to the immigration legal service needs of immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
One accredited representative, Claudia Ortega, at the Denver Center for Crime Victims, said their mission is to provide “culturally and linguistically responsive programs, health promotion and crime prevention education.”
The center, which will soon change its name to the Center for Trauma and Resilience, has a staff of three accredited BIA representatives.
Ortega credited CLINIC with helping get the staff trained and providing ongoing technical assistance.
She thanked Silvana Arista, OVW project attorney, for being extremely helpful. She said Arista, “has gone above and beyond to make sure all our questions are answered and has offered more support than I knew was available. We are very thankful not only because CLINIC has supported us but also because we know we can count on them now and in the future.”
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If you are an OVW granted DV/SA program and would like to learn more about this project, please register for a free account. Once your account has been activated, please visit CLINIC’s new OVW Project page.
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This blog includes material provided by: Suzanne Bailey, Esq., project director of the MEDOVI Project, Claudia Ortega, BIA representative at the Denver Center for Crime Victims, Silvana Arista, OVW project attorney and Nathaly Perez, field support coordinator, both with CLINIC.