The Matrimonial and Family Law Unit (FLU) received a grant from the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) through funding provided by the Office for Victims of Crime. FLU is the very first recipient of this grant in New York State, joining eight existing clinics and three fellow recipients throughout the United States.

FLU utilized this grant to open the Women’s Clinic for Victim Protection, allowing FLU attorneys to provide free legal services to victims of crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking in their criminal proceedings. Previously FLU’s representation was limited to civil cases related to matrimonial and family law. Now FLU attorneys are able to branch out into criminal court to help uphold the rights of victims affected in criminal proceedings.

In addition to providing direct legal representation, through this grant FLU can now provide training for law enforcement officials, prosecutors, civil attorneys, and crime victim advocates to educate them on utilizing the criminal justice system to its full capacity on behalf of crime victims. These trainings address many topics related to crime victims’ rights, including the history of victims’ rights, victim impact statements, restitution and other rights at sentencing, how New York’s victims’ rights laws compare to the national landscape, and ethical issues that may arise while defending victims’ rights.

The first of these training seminars, which was held on September 11th, was presented by NCVLI Executive Director Meg Garvin, Carol Schrader and Alison Wilkinson. The seminar’s success was apparent in not only the number of people in attendance- more than 45- but also in feedback from the attendees. The seminar’s participants were very impressed with the overall execution and clarity of the material presented, as well as the amount of vital information that was conveyed.

FLU Director Kim Susser and Associate Director Lisa Rivera continue to educate fellow attorneys as well as social service professionals and District Attorneys by offering numerous trainings on this topic. Providing others with the information necessary to protect victims’ rights will hopefully lead to fewer victims being lost in the complex criminal court system.

FLU has been working with domestic violence victims for twenty years and will continue to use that expertise to educate victims on their rights in criminal proceedings. By reaching out to hospitals, courts, social service organizations, and community-based organizations, FLU hopes to continue to identify victims in need and help them maneuver the complex criminal justice system.