Bavita Gopaulcha

People looking to leave abusive relationships now have another avenue of legal support.

This, as WOMANTRA launched the Elma Francois Legal Clinic to offer legal advice to victims of gender-based violence.

The clinic has been open to clients since March 1, both virtually and in-person.

“It is free and low cost services because we know that is a huge barrier to survivors of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence when they are seeking a way out,” Hannah Grosberg told Guardian Media during an interview yesterday.

Grosberg, the clinic’s coordinator, said the most common abuse faced by many people who have approached the organization is intimate partner violence. This, she noted, is a problem that has also been affecting Venezuelan women in T&T.

“As stated in the National Women’s Health study, only five percent of the respondents to this study have indicated that they have reported to the police so you can imagine for a Venezuelan migrant who is facing stigma”, Grosberg said. She said the clinic is hoping to assist these Venezuelan women.

According to Donielle Jones, one of the eight attorneys attached to the clinic, in her years of practice, the biggest hurdle for most victims is deciding if they should leave the relationship.

“It’s the affairs of the heart so they would be one foot in and they will be out. It’s like a constant roller-coaster but it is understandable”, according to her.

She said in some instances it takes months to get survivors to decide on a course of action.

Jones also noted that many victims come to her and are unaware that they are being financially abused.

“They say, I don’t have any money. He has all the bank cards or she has all the bank cards but they don’t identify it. They identify the physical abuse which could be assault, the emotional or the name calling”, Jones stated.

Grosberg said there have also been instances in which people are both a victim and perpetrator of some form of abuse. In its recently published magazine ‘Journey to Justice’, the group provides a questionnaire to help persons identify whether they have been on both sides of the problem.

Grosberg emphasised that the goal of the legal clinic is not only to open the door for people to leave violent relationships and ensure justice and protection are granted but also to transform the relationship, if possible.

WOMANTRA is looking to partner with the Law Association of T&T as well as the Family Planning Association to better connect survivors with services such as counselling