“Trapped By Poverty, Trapped By Abuse”


Why doesn’t she just leave? It’s a deceptively simple question often asked of victims of domestic violence. Answers to the question are often complicated, especially if the victim also lives in poverty. How does one “just leave” with no resources, no job (or a very low-paying job), and often with children depending on her?


"Trapped By Poverty, Trapped By Abuse" Pisgah Legal Services' 3rd Annual Poverty Forum

“Trapped By Poverty, Trapped By Abuse” Pisgah Legal Services’ 3rd Annual Poverty Forum

These questions, and others, will be explored at Pisgah Legal Services’ 3rd Annual Poverty Forum, “Trapped by Poverty, Trapped by Abuse: Pursuing Justice for Victims of Domestic Violence,” on Tuesday, October 22, 2013. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), will be the keynote speaker for the event, which will be held at the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville.


Although individuals of all economic backgrounds experience abuse, people with low incomes are three times more likely to experience domestic violence according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Gandy says, “Domestic violence victims who live in poverty are often trapped by financial abuse, or simply a lack of financial resources. Abusers can easily use the situation to their advantage, keeping victims and their children locked in a cycle of violence.”


Gandy has a long career in advocacy, legislative reform and coalition-building in areas such as violence against women, family law and poverty and economic issues. On a national level, Gandy worked closely with then-Senator Joe Biden on the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 and its reauthorization in 2000, 2005 and 2013. Prior to joining NNEDV, Gandy led a successful campaign to change the FBI’s definition of rape. For 22 years she was a leader at the National Organization for Women (NOW) and spent eight years as its president and CEO.


Gandy began her career as an assistant district attorney in Orleans Parish, L.A. where she first gained insight into domestic violence. In private practice she represented survivors pro bono and helped write criminal and civil laws, including Louisiana’s first Domestic Abuse Assistance Act.


Domestic violence and poverty can be a lethal combination, and the statistics for both in North Carolina aren’t encouraging. According to the North Carolina Attorney General, domestic violence homicide is on the rise. Data from the 2006-2010 Census shows that the percentage of people living in poverty in Buncombe County is 17.1 percent, and is even higher in other WNC counties served by Pisgah Legal Services (PLS) such as Rutherford (25 percent) and Madison (19.7 percent). Poverty statistics released last year by the Census Bureau, show that 1 in 6 Americans are poor, with 46.2 million people in the U.S. living below the poverty line, on about $23,000 annually for a family of four.


For 35 years PLS has provided free civil legal aid to low-income people in Western North Carolina and collaborated with community partners to reduce poverty. Thirty percent of Pisgah’s work provides free civil legal services to help victims of domestic violence, and 4,300 people were helped last year alone. Attorneys advocate for victims to obtain court protection orders, gain custody of their children and secure access to family property and resources so they don’t have to be financially dependant on their abusers.


But major cuts in federal grants of $350,000 earlier this year threaten PLS’ domestic violence services. PLS has launched a three-year “No Excuses Campaign to Stop Domestic Violence” to raise $1 million over the next three years and replace those funds with local contributions to the program.


On October 22nd the event begins with a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m., and the forum follows at 7:00 p.m. at the Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville. Tickets are $50 for the reception and forum, $15 for the forum only and are available at www.pisgahlegal.org.


Since 1978, PLS has helped low-income people meet their basic needs, such as protection from domestic violence, avoiding homelessness, finding safe housing, and accessing health care and subsistence income. Pisgah Legal Services has 18 attorneys on staff, and relies heavily on the pro bono legal services of 300+ volunteer attorneys and the help of more than 50 office volunteers. PLS’ main service area includes six counties in WNC, with offices in Asheville, Hendersonville, and Spindale.


For more information, call Pisgah Legal Services at 828-253-0406 or toll free at 800-489-6144 or go to www.pisgahlegal.org.


Facts and Statistics about Domestic Violence (From the NNEDV www.nnedv.org unless otherwise noted)


• Three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner each day in America, on average.
• Nearly one in every four women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood.
• Approximately 15.5 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year.
• 30-60% of perpetrators of partner violence also abuse children in the home. (NCADV)
• Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and adult domestic violence as children were almost four times more likely to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.
• Children that are exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution, and commit sexual assault crimes.
• Between one-quarter and one-half of domestic violence victims report that they lost a job, at least in part, due to domestic violence.
• Women who experienced domestic violence were more likely to experience spells of unemployment, have health problems, and be welfare recipients.
• The cost of intimate partner violence annually exceeds $5.8 billion, including $4.1 billion in direct health care expenses.
• Victims lost nearly eight million days of paid work each year due to domestic violence issues, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)



October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this October Pisgah Legal Services is hosting its 3rd Annual Poverty Forum on October 22nd. This year the focus will be on domestic violence and its relationship to poverty. We are bringing a wonderful speaker, Kim Gandy, the President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, to Asheville for the event. Last year more than 400 people attended the forum.


For 35 years, Pisgah Legal Services has provided free civil legal aid to people who live in poverty in WNC. Last year, Pisgah Legal helped more than 13,000 people avoid homelessness, escape domestic violence, access health care and meet other basic needs. More than 75% of PLS clients are women.


As a nonprofit law firm, PLS employs 18 staff attorneys and works with more than 300 volunteer attorneys. Pisgah primarily serves Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Polk, Rutherford, and Transylvania counties, and also provides limited services in 17 WNC counties. Pisgah Legal Services is the primary provider of legal aid in our service area.


One-third of Pisgah Legal’s work is dedicated to stopping domestic violence. Pisgah attorneys advocate for victims to obtain court protection orders, gain custody of their children, divorce their abusers, and secure access to family property so they can rebuild their lives. In 2012, Pisgah Legal Services helped more than 4,300 people, primarily women and children, as they were escaping abuse.


But these services are in jeopardy. Due to major cuts in federal grants, Pisgah Legal Services will lose half of its annual funding to serve victims of domestic violence. In the coming year more than 2,100 abuse victims may have to be turned away if funding is not replaced. To make a tax-deductible donation, or to purchase tickets to the Poverty Forum on October 22nd, visit www.pisgahlegal.org.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker