Attorneys are called many things.
Yes – I know, you’re thinking of the jokes and the horrible things that we can get called, and some attorneys rightfully deserve to be called crooks, rats, and far worse.
What I’m thinking of, though, is that we’re also called counselors.
I’m not a licensed counselor and I have no desire to be one, but with many of the clients I work with and the psychological trauma they endure, I have to be attuned to their mental needs more than, say, a bankruptcy attorney.
Under VAWA, there is no rule or regulation that says the applicant has to be separated from the abusive spouse in order to apply. It makes absolutely no difference to the USCIS adjudicator if the applicant lives with the abuser, goes back to the abuser, or is divorced (so long as the divorce wasn’t more than two years ago).
There is good reasoning behind that. As I’ve mentioned before, it takes a domestic violence victim an average of seven times to leave a relationship.
A victim may also rely on the abuser financially and stay in the relationship until the immigration case is granted and independence is at hand. Not every victim has the strength or resources to leave the abuser – and they should not be punished because of that.
When a client asks me a question, I have to be honest. I am obligated as an attorney, to tell the truth, and I always want to tell the truth. What happens, though, when I’m afraid that truth will hurt her?
A client recently asked me if she could return to her abusive husband, wondering if it would impact her VAWA case. The truth is that legally, no, it won’t matter at all to her case. However, that was the last thing I wanted to tell her.
I didn’t want to tell her because I didn’t want to give her an excuse. I didn’t want her to think it’s okay to go back.
If her legal case is the one thing that keeps her away from him, then I want to do what I can to protect her. But why do I want to protect a grown woman? It’s not my place to judge what’s best for her – and as I said, I’m not a licensed counselor.
It’s because I know her story.
I know how he put her in the hospital several times. I know how he held a gun to her head and pulled the trigger (at the time, he knew it wasn’t loaded, but she didn’t). I know how he repeatedly and violently raped her. If she goes back to him, I don’t know if she’ll be able to leave him again – at least not alive.
Ethically, I have to tell her that yes, she can go back to him and it won’t impact her VAWA case. But I can tell her that it will hurt her case if he kills her. USCIS can’t approve a VAWA case for a deceased victim.
I can also make sure she has the contact information for licensed counselors to help where I cannot.