The Center for Survivor Agency and Justice fosters systemic change that better aligns what communities provide with what works to meet the comprehensive, self-defined needs of IPV survivors. They strive to meet this goal by developing transformative advocacy approaches that match institutional structures, organizational programs, and professional practices with IPV survivors’ lived realities.
If You Need Immediate Help
If you’re looking for immediate help or individual assistance or legal representation, see the list of possible resources below. Unfortunately, CSAJ cannot provide direct assistance or legal representation, but we work with advocates and attorneys who may be able to help:
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
StrongHearts Native Helpline 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483)
Directory for Statewide Domestic Violence Coalitions (to connect you with local programs)
Directory of Sexual Violence Coalitions and Organizations (to connect you with local programs)
Erika A. Sussman, Executive Director
Erika Sussman is the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, a national organization dedicated to enhancing advocacy for survivors of intimate partner violence by cultivating a community of lawyers and advocates skilled in survivor-centered advocacy. The substantive focus of her work at CSAJ has included the development of a Survivor Centered Advocacy Curriculum and the creation of the Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative, a national technical assistance project. Read More
Prior to her work with CSAJ, Ms. Sussman served as the Senior Attorney of the Legal Assistance Providers’ Technical Outreach Project, a national project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which offered technical assistance to civil attorneys and advocates funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. For four years, Ms. Sussman was an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, where she taught a seminar course on Law and Violence Against Women. Prior to that, she taught law students and litigated for two years in Georgetown University Law Center's Domestic Violence Clinic. As a litigation associate at Swidler Berlin Sherreff Friedman, LLP, she provided pro bono representation to domestic violence survivors and co-counseled a class action lawsuit against the State of Maryland for the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement. Immediately following law school, she served as a Law Clerk to Justice Gregory Hobbs of the Colorado Supreme Court. Ms. Sussman earned her JD from Cornell Law School and her LLM in Advocacy from Georgetown University Law Center. She has published numerous articles and chapters and served as faculty for various academic and practitioner workshops related to violence against women, with a particular emphasis on survivor-centered advocacy and economic justice. Hide Bio
Lisalyn R. Jacobs, Interim Legal & Policy Director
Lisalyn R. Jacobs currently serves as CSAJ's Interim Legal & Policy Director, leading a groundbreaking new initiative, the Racial & Economic Equity for Survivors Project (REEP). She is the CEO, of Just Solutions: Bringing in justice to counteract injustice, and the former V.P. of Government Relations for Legal Momentum (formerly NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund). Read More
Lisalyn has testified before congressional committees at both the state and federal levels. She has also fought for and secured needed protections for poor women and survivors of violence in a number of key federal laws including two reauthorizations of the Violence Against Women Act (2005 and 2013), the 2006 reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and the 2009 amendments to the Stimulus law. She works closely with the Administration on a variety of issues including campus sexual assault and workplace and other economic protections for victims of violence, among others. Hide Bio
Sara Wee, Director of Research & Program Development
Sara Wee supports CSAJ's research, leads demonstration site work, develops trainings to support program development, and substantive expertise related to survivors' economic security. Read More
Sara comes to CSAJ with over eight years of experience in developing and managing domestic violence programs, grassroots violence prevention, and applied research and evaluation for collaborative, government, and community-based programs. She began her work in the field as a peer educator and violence prevention program coordinator. She later turned her focus to government and systems’ response to domestic violence while getting her Masters in Public Health from Columbia University. She worked with the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence then the Family Justice Center Alliance, leading a health initiative to enhance wellness and health advocacy for survivors. Hide Bio
Kathleen Bjerknes, Finance Director
Kathleen is a financial consultant with Administrative and Consulting Solutions and has been handling the financial needs of the CSAJ for five years. Read More
As a consultant, Kathleen works with a number of not for profit agencies in the Washington metropolitan area. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from University of Maryland. She has over 20 years of financial and management experience. She has extensive experience with federal grants and has been trained by DOJ on Grants Financial Management. Kathleen’s focus is targeted financial review and oversight providing value-added services that support sustainability and growth. Hide Bio
Kristen Mejia, Equity Research Fellow
Kristen is a Masters of Public Health student at the University of Maryland pursuing a concentration of health equity. Her focus is on indigenous health, as well as the areas of environmental racism, intimate partner violence, and community-based participatory research. With CSAJ, Kristen is conducting qualitative research to better understand the scope of racial and economic equity advocacy across the nation. Read More
Aila Niglia, Director of Capacity Building & Systems Change
Aila Niglia is CSAJ’s Director of Capacity Building and Systems Change. Her role within the organization is to enhance individual legal advocacy in the domestic and sexual violence field, primarily by contributing to two national technical assistance projects, while helping to build-out CSAJ’s policy and systems change advocacy. Read More
Before joining CSAJ, Ms. Niglia worked as an immigrant rights advocate and on campaigns at the state and national level. She was an organizer for President Obama's reelection campaign and later joined the Florida Democratic Party's voter protection efforts. In 2016, she served as Florida Deputy Voter Protection Director. After law school, she joined the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative where she provided direct services to immigrants detained in the rural south. She later served as Immigration Counsel for a statewide organization in Florida. Ms. Niglia earned her law degree from Florida International University College of Law and is licensed to practice in New York and Colorado. Hide Bio
Texas Council on Family Violence
The Texas Council on Family Violence promotes safe and healthy relationships by supporting service providers, facilitating strategic prevention efforts, and creating opportunities for freedom from domestic violence. TCFV has worked with CSAJ for years as a demonstration site dedicated to enhancing the capacity of programs to address the economic justice needs of survivors on a statewide scale. TCFV is also a leader in violence against women prevention and policy, one of the largest DV coalitions in the nation, and as such, is acutely aware of the disproportionate impacts policy can have on survivors of color, particularly from the immigrant advocacy groups they partner with. Krista Del Gallo, Policy Manager, and Mona Muro, Economic Justice Policy Coordinator, lead the Building Partnerships For Economic Justice demonstration site work with CSAJ and offer statewide policy expertise to REEP. In her position at TCFV, Mona provides consultation and technical assistance on economic empowerment and self-sufficiency policies and practices across Texas, with an emphasis on child support, consumer rights, housing, financial literacy, asset building, tax advocacy, and immigration. Krista’s work focuses on researching, analyzing and promoting laws, policies and options that expand the critical social safety nets for survivors of family violence, with a particular focus on housing, health, immigration remedies, and child welfare.
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity is an interdisciplinary engaged research institute at The Ohio State University established in May 2003. Kirwan’s goal is to connect individuals and communities with opportunities needed for thriving by educating the public, building the capacity of allied social justice organizations, and investing in efforts that support equity and inclusion. Kirwan brings research and evaluation expertise grounded in race equity and community participatory action. Kip Holley, Jason Reece, and Elizabeth McGory support partnership work with CSAJ’s REEP. Kip Holley is a Research Associate at The Kirwan Institute, working in the Opportunity Communities Program where his primary area of focus is community engagement, social capital and civic Leadership. Currently, Kip is working with a collection of Civic Engagement Fellows in Detroit to help craft a civic engagement framework that empowers minority and low-income residents and helps bring equity to the city’s reshaping process and continues to work to assist communities in the Sustainable Community Initiative with community engagement and mapping assistance. Jason is the senior associate director for the Kirwan Institute, as well as adjunct faculty and lecturer teaching undergraduate and graduate courses, focused on equity in the City and Regional Planning Program, at the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University. Kip, Jason, and the Kirwna Instittue rely on Elizabeth, Office Assistant, for integral administrative and program support.
William Kennedy, J.D.
Bill Kennedy began his practice in 1974. Until September 2015, he was the Managing Attorney of the Sacramento office of Legal Services of Northern California and director of the Race Equity Project. His legal work has focused primarily on housing and civil rights. In recent years he has worked on several actions that focus on the nexus between land use decisions and civil rights including the most recent victory on behalf of the Avondale Glen Elder Neighborhood Association wherein a historical African American community was able to defeat a proposal to pump 7.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas into a geological formation under their homes. As Director of the Race Equity Project, Bill and his former colleague Mona Tawatao developed a training curriculum for legal services attorney that provides the essential tools of a race equity practice. The curriculum ensures that race as an issue is squarely on the table in all of the programs anti-poverty advocacy. Bill brings a practitioner's perspective to the discussion of cognitive science and the law.
Camille Holmes, J.D.
Camille Holmes is a skilled facilitator who has developed and delivered training in the areas of leadership development, community problem solving, diversity and inclusion, cultural responsiveness, implicit bias and racial equity. She was formerly the Director of Leadership and Racial Equity at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. Ms. Holmes came to NLADA from the Center for Law and Social Policy where she was instrumental in the founding of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm explicitly committed to advancing racial and economic justice. She formerly served as executive director of the Southern Africa Legal Services and Legal Education Project, an attorney at the D.C. law firm of WilmerHale, and a law clerk for the Honorable Damon J. Keith on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. She is a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges.
Casa De Esperanza
Casa de Esperanza is a leader in the domestic violence movement and a national resource center for organizations working with Latin@s in the United States. Casa de Esperanza was founded in 1982 to provide emergency shelter for Latinas and other women and children experiencing domestic violence, and continues to offer critical and innovative services and support in its local communities. As such, Casa brings expertise in bridging individual and national advocacy. Casa’s partnership with REEP is led by Pierre Berastain. Pierre R. Berastaín serves as the Assistant Director of Innovation & Engagement for the National Latin@ Network. Originally from Peru, Pierre immigrated to the United States with his family in 1998 and remained an undocumented immigrant for 14 years. Additionally, he is the Co-Founder of the Massachusetts Restorative Justice Collaborative, served as the Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender (GLBT) Domestic Violence Coalition, a contributor to the Huffington Post, and a Bachelor’s in Social Anthropology and Ethnic Studies/Human Rights from Harvard University as well as a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Also supporting the work is Z. Ruby White Starr, the Chief Strategy Officer for Casa de Esperanza, where she serves as director of the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, and Patricia Moen, Casa’s Chief Operating Officer.
Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence
The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (APIGBV) is a national resource center on domestic violence, sexual violence, trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. It serves a national network of advocates, community-based organizations, national and state programs, legal, health, and mental health professionals, researchers, policy advocates and activists from social justice organizations working to eliminate violence against women. Aligned with its goals to strengthen advocacy and systems change APIGBV’s Executive Director, Chic Dabby, and Sarah Khan, Project Specialist, provide critical analysis and support to CSAJ’s REEP. Chic Dabby has been in the field of gender-based violence for over thirty years acquiring expertise on domestic violence against Asian immigrant and refugee women. She writes, trains, and presents extensively about these and many other issues. Sarah Khan works closely with culturally specific agencies serving Asian and Pacific Islander communities, provides national training and technical assistance, and leads pilot projects focused on enhancing financial capacity of South Asian survivors. Sarah Khan brings a longstanding passion for grassroots activism, domestic violence advocacy, and community education and empowerment, with 15+ years of working in the field.
The Southwest Center for Law and Policy
The Southwest Center for Law and Policy (SWCLAP) is a non-profit organization based in Tucson, Arizona that provides legal training and national technical assistance to OVW grantees serving American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) victims of sexual and domestic violence, stalking, elder abuse, teen dating violence, firearms violence, and abuse of persons with disabilities. Among other national work, SWCLAP oversees SAFESTAR, a unique model of care that draws upon the strength and resilience of Indigenous women to improve safety and justice outcomes for victims of sexual violence and to provide long-term, compassionate, culturally meaningful, holistic care. SWCLAP’s Hallie Bongar White and Alexandra Mojado lead partnership work with CSAJ’s REEP. Hallie is an attorney and SWCLAPS’s Executive Director, training nationally on legal and policy issues related to violence in Indian Country. Currently, Alex is entering her third year of law school at the James E. Rogers College of Law where she is working towards certificates in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy and Criminal Law, with a focus on issues that involve Title IX, Public Law 280, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, Indian Child Welfare Act, and Tribal law.
Women of Color Network, Inc.
The Women of Color Network, Inc. (WOCN) is a national grassroots initiative dedicated to eliminating violence against ALL women and their communities by centralizing the voices and promoting the leadership of women of color across the Sovereign Nations, the United States and U.S. Territories. Since 2010, WOCN has conducted an Economic Policy and Leadership Project (EPLP) funded by OVW, bringing together Tribal women and women of color advocates from the gender-based violence, social justice and economic justice movements to examine and build collective action steps in enhancing outreach and services to women of color survivors and their communities. As leaders in racial equity for survivors of color, WOCN’s Tonya Lovelace and Purvi Shah will steer the partnership with CSAJ’s REEP project. As CEO of WOCN, Inc. Tonya Lovelace oversees the vision and operations of national programming and draws upon close to 19 years of direct service, advocacy, systems change, project development and management, and national, state, and local anti-oppression and cultural competency training experience within the anti-violence against women movement. WOCN’s Senior Consultant for the EPL Project and former Executive Director at Sakhi for South Asian Women, Purvi Shah, inspires change as a non-profit consultant, anti-violence advocate, and arts activist – bringing sparkly eye shadow and a raucous laughter.
Sara Shoener, DrPH - CSAJ Strategic Advisor
Dr. Shoener has been advocating for and conducting research on effective approaches to reduce violence against women for over ten years. She has experience conducting focus groups, surveys, needs assessments, program evaluations, and survivor and attorney/advocate interviews related to anti-violence projects. Sara has been involved with CSAJ since its inception, is our former Director of Research, and continues to play an active role in the strategic vision and direction of CSAJ's work. Currently, she is the Director of Research and Planning in New York City's Human Resources Administration, Emergency and Intervention Services.
Wider Opportunities for Women
Since 1964, Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) has promoted women’s economic security across the lifespan. Through research, technical assistance and advocacy, WOW advances policies and practices that increase job quality, improve gender equity and empower women economically. WOW’s Economic Security for Survivors (ESS) Project identifies barriers that threaten survivor economic security and safety and offers practical solutions based on data and proven best practices.
Jamie Andree, JD
Jamie Andree is an attorney with expertise in tax advocacy for domestic violence survivors. She has worked for Indiana Legal Services [ILS] since graduating from Cornell University Law School in 1979, and has been the Director of the ILS Low Income Taxpayer Clinic since 2007. As LITC Director, she has represented hundreds of low income taxpayers to resolve controversies with IRS, working closely with both domestic violence survivors and their advocates. She has also served as a trainer in multiple tax-related events aimed at taxpayers, attorneys, and other advocates. Ms. Andree taught Poverty Law as an Adjunct Professor at the IU Law School and was Co-Director of the law school’s Elder Law Clinic until 2008. Jaime acts as both an expert advisor to CSAJ and also leads one of the Building Partnerships for Consumer Rights Advocacy Pilot Projects.
Karen Tjapkes, JD
Karen Merrill Tjapkes is a Supervising Attorney of the Strategic Litigation Unit and directs the Homeownership Preservation Project at Legal Aid of Western Michigan in Grand Rapids. Her practice is concentrated on consumer law, housing law and mortgage litigation. Ms. Tjapkes is the past chair of the Consumer Law Section Council of the State Bar of Michigan, sits on the steering committee of the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force, and has presented on mortgage lending issues for the Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Project, the Debtor’s Bar of West Michigan, the Michigan Conference on Affordable Housing and the National Consumer Law Center’s Consumer Rights Litigation Conference. Ms. Tjapkes is also on the Steering Council of the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness.
Home Free was one of the first domestic violence organizations to develop “housing first” services for survivors to address the intersecting impacts of violence, homelessness, and poverty; its innovative approach has served as a model for initiatives across the nation. In addition to their innovative and long-standing domestic violence interventions, Home Free helps build capacity within the field through training and technical assistance aimed at assisting communities to identify strategies and build partnerships that enhance the effectiveness of housing services and advocacy for survivors.
Center for Court Innovation
Growing out of a single experiment in New York City, the Center for Court Innovation is a national leader in helping the justice system aid victims, reduce crime, strengthen neighborhoods, and improve public trust in justice. CCI’s work is rooted in research and supporting demonstration projects to address issues of access to justice. In particular, CCI lends its expertise to CSAJ's work through training and technical assistance on reducing the economic barriers to justice for domestic violence survivors in civil courts.
Feerick Center for Social Justice
Feerick Center for Social Justice at Fordham Law School seeks to frame concrete achievable solutions to discrete problems of urban poverty. In 2007, Feerick launched a Domestic Violence and Consumer Law Project to enhance the capacity of advocates in New York City to address consumer debt issues facing domestic violence survivors. Their pilot project pairs domestic violence and consumer attorneys in legal clinics, in an effort to enhance advocacy and identify best practices.
Katie VonDeLinde, MSW, LCSW
Katie VonDeLinde is an expert who offers training and education to advocates on issues of economics and survivor-defined advocacy. She previously managed the Economic Action Program at Redevelopment Opportunities for Women, was assistant director of a domestic violence program in southeast Iowa, and worked with the Building Comprehensive Solutions to DV Initiative of the NRCDV where she published several articles related to domestic violence and economic advocacy.
Susan Morgenstern, JD
Susan Morgenstern has practiced at Legal Aid Society of Cleveland for the past 25 years. She holds extensive expertise in tax representation, related to income tax credit, e-filing, collection defenses, domestic violence, and the intertwining of consumer law and tax law on issues such as foreclosures, bankruptcy, and identity theft.
Laura A. Russell, JD
Laura A. Russell is the Supervising attorney of the Family Law Unit of both the Bronx Neighborhood Office and the Harlem Community Law Office of the Legal Aid Society, and the Co-Supervising Attorney of the Domestic Violence Unit, and formerly supervised the Foreclosure Defense Project of the Bronx office.
National Consumer Law Center
The National Consumer Law Center is America’s leading consumer law organization, helping consumers, their advocates, and public policy makers to use powerful consumer laws to build financial security and assure marketplace justice. NCLC publishes an acclaimed set of manuals on consumer law, acts as an advisor to thousands of consumer attorneys, operates a number of list serves, and advocates for the interests of low and moderate-income consumers.
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
Since 1989, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has served as the legal arm of the national movement to end and prevent American homelessness. Through policy, education, litigation, training, and technical assistance, the Law Center works for systemic reform and enhances the ability of local groups to become more effective voices for the needs and rights of homeless and poor people.
Board of Directors
Mona Bhalla, JD
Ms. Bhalla joined CSAJ's Board of Directors in August 2016. Ms. Bhalla is an experienced corporate attorney with 22 years of experience. Most recently, she was a Senior Vice President, Corporate Secretary and the head of the Corporate, Securities and M&A Legal Group of AllianceBernstein Holding L.P., a large publicly-traded asset management firm. Ms. Bhalla was responsible for all domestic corporate legal matters, with a focus on Securities Exchange Act reporting and Board-level governance, and was the firm's lead M&A attorney. Prior to joining AllianceBernstein Holding L.P., Ms. Bhalla was a senior securities lawyer at AXA Equitable and worked at two large New York City based law firms, focusing on corporate, securities and merger and acquisition transactions. Ms. Bhalla earned her J.D. From New York University School of Law, where she was a staff editor of the New York University Law Review.
Debra BenAvram, CAE
Debra BenAvram joined CSAJ’s Board of Directors in 2014. She is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition in Silver Spring, MD, an international society representing 6000 interdisciplinary clinical nutrition professionals. Debra also serves as CEO for an affiliated research Foundation, two clinician certification organizations, and a subsidiary patient registry corporation. She has a strong passion for the redesigning of staff and volunteer cultures, called the Circle Model, to support integration among all team members and eliminate silos. In 2013, Debra was recognized as a Top CEO by CEO Update. She was also listed as one of Forty Under 40 Association Leaders by Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE.
Nancy Hay, JD - Board Chair
Ms. Hay has been a Director of the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice since August 2012. Ms. Hay is currently Vice President and Counsel at AllianceBernstein L.P. Prior to joining AllianceBernstein L.P., Ms. Hay was a corporate associate at Clifford Chance LLP. Ms. Hay earned her J.D. from Cornell Law School.
Tamara Kuennen, JD
Before joining the University of Denver Sturm College of Law faculty, Tamara Kuennen was a Women In Law and Public Policy Fellow at Georgetown University Law Center. She taught for two years in the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown, where she earned her LLM degree in trial advocacy. Prior to teaching, Kuennen practiced at Legal Aid Services of Oregon for five years, representing victims of domestic violence in a variety of civil cases, including protection orders, domestic relations, public benefits and civil rights litigation.