NYLAG Director of Matrimonial & Family Law, Kim Susser (left) with visiting Qatari students: Manar Mohammed Al Bloushi, Sarah El Nour and Aisha Al-Neama

On Friday, June 22, students from Qatar University’s College of Law visited the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)’s office to learn how the issue of domestic violence is addressed in the United States.

The visitors are part of Qatar University’s College of Law Domestic Violence Clinic and hope to use the knowledge gained from this exchange to draft legislation addressing domestic violence that they will submit to Qatar’s policymakers. They came to NYLAG through a partnership between the American Embassy in Doha and Meridian International Center, a non-profit that facilitates international educational and cultural exchange.

As a leading advocate on behalf of domestic violence victims, NYLAG provided a comprehensive overview of the law in this area. Kim Susser, Director of the Matrimonial and Family Law Unit (FLU), and Shani Adess, Staff Attorney in FLU, met with the students to discuss the legal protections available to domestic violence victims in New York State and to demonstrate how FLU uses the law to advocate on behalf of victims. The young women were initially reticent to engage in the discussion, but as the conversation progressed, they became more and more articulate about issues they wanted to pursue and asked numerous questions.

“The students were very interested in discussing how lawyers, police, judges and the general population could be educated about responding to domestic violence situations,” said Adess, noting that awareness of domestic violence in Qatar is lacking. NYLAG’s focus on providing culturally sensitive services to victims was particularly informative for the visitors. “This issue was of paramount importance to the women,” said Adess. “Almost 80% of Qatar’s population is Muslim, and they wanted to know how we approach socio-cultural differences in our work.” Susser and Adess spoke in detail about the methods and strategies used in NYLAG’s “Project Eden,” which works within the Orthodox Jewish community to raise awareness of domestic violence and to help victims escape abuse while respecting their religious customs. Qatari women face analogous religious pressures in combating domestic violence, making NYLAG’s experience with this project particularly applicable.

The law the students plan to submit to Qatari policymakers will provide comprehensive legal remedies for domestic violence victims and will increase sanctions for abusers. The students are also working to develop priorities for increasing community education and awareness. Their experience at NYLAG will inform their proposal and, if enacted, will make Qatar a model for the Middle East region.