In-Depth: Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced this bill to help combat domestic abuse and sexual violence:
“Pro bono assistance… [is a] particularly helpful tool in giving hope to victims of domestic violence. The POWER Act will bring this tool to more communities, encouraging lawyers across the country to get involved and help victims who too often fear or are unfamiliar with the justice system.”
The American Bar Association (ABA) supports this bill as part of its overall support for bar members engaging in pro bono work. The bill as written includes language from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, calling pro bono legal service work potentially “one of the most rewarding experiences in the life of a lawyer.”
Domestic Violence Action Center (DVAC), a Honolulu-based agency that provides legal assistance and outreach to victims of domestic abuse, is opposed to this bill, as it believes that the legislation as is — which doesn’t include funding to fulfill its mandate — wouldn’t provide the financial resources needed to adequately meet the demand for services. Some DVAC-affiliated specialists even say they believe the legislation could be counterproductive because of the severity of the danger posed by abusers. Nanci Kreidman, chief executive officer of DVAC, notes that pro bono legal assistance may do more harm than good:
“Pro bono legal assistance is problematic for several reasons. Untrained attorneys assisting survivors who may be in life-threatening situations can be potentially fatal. All attorneys must be trained to understand the risks and the right set of practices and interventions to be helpful, and not harmful.”
There are 11 cosponsors of this bill, (including six Republicans and five Democrats.
This is the second time this bill has passed the Senate. Sen. Sullivan successfully moved the POWER Act through the Senate in 2015, but it was held up in the House. This year, the Senate passed the bill unanimously, and the House is taking up a slightly different version of the legislation. There, Sen. Sullivan hopes that a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA), can help move it across the finish line.
Of Note: One in four U.S. women will experience domestic violence over the course of their lifetimes. Domestic violence survivors’ need for legal representation is significant. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) , the second-most-requested service for domestic violence shelters is legal representation to obtain protective orders. Currently, there is far from adequate pro bono service availability to meet survivors’ needs: on a single day in September 2014, over 10,000 requests for services, including legal representation, were unmet. Frequently, lack of access to legal services prevents survivors from finding the assistance needed to stop the cycle of abuse and escape their abusers.
When legal assistance is rendered available, outcomes are significantly improved for survivors. For example, without an attorney, the probability that a survivor will be granted a protective order is 32% — with an attorney, that number rises to 83%.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: nito100/ iStock)