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Consumer Rights Advocacy for Domestic Violence Survivors Training Summary

August 20, 2012

On October 25, 2012, the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice conducted a one-day intensive training on Consumer Rights Advocacy for Domestic Violence Survivors as a part of their Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. This training took place at the National Consumer Law Center’s Annual Consumer Rights Litigation Conference in Seattle, WA.

The day was packed with information, exercises, and conversations about the ways in which consumer and domestic violence advocates and lawyers can expand their advocacy and partner to meet the concurrent goals of physical safety and economic justice for survivors of violence. Economic security is central to achieving safety, agency, restoration, and justice. Consumer advocacy can be powerful tool for achieving economic security for survivors, who may face collection actions for debt incurred or coerced by their abusers, credit damage, risk of identity theft and homelessness, and other financial difficulties as a result of abuse.

The day started with Erika Sussman, Executive Director of the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice, and Katie VonDeLinde, faculty at University of Missouri – St. Louis and Washington University in St. Louis, who discussed expanding our approach to safety to include economic security. Through concrete examples and self-reflective questions, participants learned how to develop their practice of Survivor‐Centered Economic Advocacy. In Session 2, Fred Corbit, Senior Attorney in the King County office of the Northwest Justice Project, and Katie VonDeLinde offered a presentation on Debt Prioritization and Collection Defense for Survivors. The session provided tools and information to assist survivors in financial assessment and planning, dealing with debt collection issues, and prioritizing debt. Laura Russell, Supervising Attorney in the Family Law Unit of the Bronx Neighborhood Office and the Harlem Community Law Office of the Legal Aid Society, and Persis Yu, Staff Attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, followed with a session on Credit Reporting and RepairAdvocacy for Survivors of Domestic Violence. The presenters covered an overview of credit reporting and its importance for domestic violence survivors, common credit reporting issues and correlating strategies for advocates, and safety implications of credit advocacy for survivors. In Session 4, Karen Tjapkes, Director of the Homeownership Preservation Project at Legal Aid of Western Michigan, and Lisa Coleman, the domestic violence and education attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, reviewed Housing Foreclosure and VAWA Protections for Domestic Violence Survivors. The faculty addressed the legal rights and remedies available to help access and maintain housing through mechanisms such as the Violence Against Women Act and state and local housing protections. They then focused on advocacy strategies to protect domestic violence survivors from foreclosure. The day concluded with a panel discussion about Building Partnerships to Enhance Economic Justice for Domestic Violence Survivors. Panelists were Catherine Trapani, New Destiny’s HousingLink Director and Co-Chair of the Domestic Violence and Economic Justice Taskforce, and Deirdre Keys, Project Coordinator at the Battered Women’s Legal Advocacy Project and Chair of the Minnesota Identity Theft Coalition. The panelists described the innovative partnership projects on which they work, the ways in which they have drawn on critical resources, and the challenges they have experienced. Participants then applied these lessons to their own communities in a discussion regarding common barriers to successful collaboration and strategies for effective partnership building.

Throughout the day, participants engaged in hands-on exercises to develop their ability to screen for and address consumer law and domestic violence issues, gained new consumer law knowledge and advocacy techniques, acquired a better understanding of how the context of domestic violence impacts consumer advocacy, and explored consumer law strategies that address the safety and privacy concerns of survivors. Moreover, the training offered a rich opportunity to build partnerships between domestic violence and consumer lawyers and advocates.