Part of the United States Justice Department (DOJ), the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) is the federal agency taking the lead in combating specific crimes that affect female safety. One upcoming discretionary grant it is currently offering is the Legal Assistance for Victims (LAV) Grant Program to make legal assistance available for adult and youth survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking in legal matters related to those offenses. Not only does this assistance help survivors in their recovery efforts, it has the potential to reduce the economic burden on municipalities who must combat these multi-faceted social problems.
The Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program
The purpose of LAV is to increase the availability of the broad spectrum of civil and criminal legal assistance needed for adult and youth victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Eligible activities include:
- Implementation, establishing, and expanding cooperation and projects between sexual assault, domestic violence, and dating violence victim service providers and legal assistance providers.
- Implementing, expanding, and establishing efforts and projects to provide legal assistance for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking by organizations with a demonstrated history of providing direct legal or advocacy services on behalf of these victims.
- Implementing, expanding, and establishing efforts and projects to provide competent, supervised pro bono legal assistance for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.
- Advocacy, including safety planning, court accompaniment, preparation for court appearances, and assistance with obtaining housing employment, child care, and related resources.
- Translation services.
- Child care.
Priority areas are as follows:
- Improve services for victims of trafficking who have also experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and/or stalking.
- Increase support for survivors of sexual assault, including services, law enforcement, response, and prosecution.
- Increase access to OVW programming for marginalized and/or underserved populations.
- Increase the use of promising, evidence-based, and evidence-building practices.
Why It Matters
The nonpartisan Institute for Public Integrity's 2015 report Supporting Survivors: The Economic Benefits of Providing Civil Legal Assistance to Survivors of Domestic Violence found that legal assistance was the single most effective type of assistance for deterring future incidences, beyond shelters or counseling services. A widely cited statistic from this analysis holds that legal assistance increases the odds of a survivor obtaining an order of protection from the 32% to 86%. While the OVW considers protective orders important, it is quick to point out it is not the only crucial assistance attorneys can provide. That is why this grant supports a range of holistic legal services that make women less dependent on their abusers, which gives them more options should they choose to leave the relationship.
The human element is paramount in making lawyers available to survivors. Yet, if these services are successful in reducing the number of subsequent incidences, the strain on municipal resources they create can also be reduced. The Institute for Public Integrity's report deals with domestic violence, just one category eligible for the LAV grant. But it highlights research on how combating violence against women benefits the community as a whole:
- The state of New York found that providing legal assistance to female survivors had the potential to save $85 million a year.
- Massachusetts concluded that providing legal assistance could save $16 million exclusively in medical costs, not counting the costs of first responders, emergency housing, or other nonmedical social services.
- The effects of domestic violence are so toxic, there is evidence even children not exposed to it in their own homes can be affected. Known as negative peer effects, the disruption from students reliving trauma in the classroom can reduce reading and math scores for the class as a whole. Study authors Mark Hoekstra and Elira Kuka also found that the effects diminish after the abuse is reported.
Applying for the LAV Grant
Eligible applicants are Native American tribes and tribal organizations, consortia, academic institutions, and nonprofits. Applicants must be victim service providers or in a collaborative working relationship with service providers. Applicants addressing the human trafficking priority must include a local, state, and/or federal law enforcement agency and a local, state, and/or federal prosecutor's office as partners. The deadline is February 1, 2018. A transcript of the pre-application conference call can be found here.