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Advocating for AMEMSA Survivors of Domestic Violence

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Photo of Nafisa Ahmed
Photo of Nafisa Ahmed

Nafisa Ahmed, a 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Cooley LLP and Uber Technologies Inc., recently spoke with us about working with AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian) domestic violence survivors in the greater Los Angeles area. 

What inspired you to pursue a career focused on advocating for AMEMSA (Arab Middle Eastern Muslim South Asian) survivors of domestic violence?

I am AMEMSA and wanted to be able to use my education to uplift my community. I witnessed the struggles that AMEMSA domestic violence survivors face getting out of relationships and wanted to workshop solutions to help them. It’s also an area of law that plays to my strengths and excites me. It’s never boring!

I witnessed the struggles that AMEMSA domestic violence survivors face getting out of relationships and wanted to workshop solutions to help them.

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the legal landscape, increasing the demand for civil legal aid across the country. How did the pandemic affect your work and the clients you serve?

Essentially, since the start of the pandemic, funding and availability for legal aid family law services has decreased in Los Angeles County while the demand has increased. For a period of time, one of the main resources for self-represented litigants in Los Angeles, the Self-Help Centers at the Courthouses were not operating in the same capacity that they were pre-pandemic.

Many legal aid organizations across Los Angeles that provide family law services are currently understaffed. My host organization has become one of the few where domestic violence survivors can get family law legal aid without having to wait three months. That meant that I took on a larger case load and a larger array of clients to meet the need.

My organization has become one of the few where domestic violence survivors can get family law legal aid without having to wait three months.

Survivors of domestic violence often have a multitude of legal problems associated with their abusive experience. What are some of the legal needs expressed by your clients and what areas of the law are you providing legal assistance?

Survivors often need assistance in housing rights, immigration, family law, and victim advocacy to name a few. My organization assists with immigration and family law services. I primarily work on family law issues which includes restraining orders, divorces, child custody, and support.

During your Equal Justice Works Fellowship, you’ve been working closely with your sponsors on creating Know-Your-Rights materials as well as legal research and clinic opportunities. Can you tell us more about these partnerships and share some of the benefits of having your sponsors involved in your project? 

My Fellowship sponsors Cooley LLP and Uber Technologies Inc. have assisted me with translating Know Your Rights materials to AMEMSA languages. These materials have been distributed to various organizations that work with AMEMSA survivors, ensuring that survivors are able to access resources they can understand and know that remedies are available to them. My sponsors have also assisted me in conducting legal research and writing for a Trial Advocacy Guide for Self-Represented Litigants in Restraining Order proceedings. My department gets more referrals and requests for services than we can assist, so it’s useful to have a comprehensive guide for individuals we are unable to work more closely with.

I hope that survivors are at least able to access resources that they can understand and know that remedies are available to them.

What are some of the ways you are sharing these materials with survivors of domestic violence?

During the first six months of my Equal Justice Works Fellowship, I did the groundwork of connecting with other organizations to establish a stronger referral base. We are in the process of regularly exchanging resources and referrals. However, most of my project is now dedicated to direct legal services and representation of survivors.

Lastly, what has been the most exciting part of being an Equal Justice Works Fellow?

The most exciting part of being an Equal Justice Works Fellow has been connecting with other Fellows across the country. Although our projects vary, it has been a positive collegial experience sharing the growths and challenges of being new public interest attorneys. Legal aid work can be very difficult, so it has been a pleasure connecting with other individual who share similar experiences.

It has been a positive collegial experience sharing the growths and challenges of being new public interest attorneys.

To learn more about Nafisa’s Fellowship, visit her profile here.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow