News

Advocating for Survivors in a Time of Pandemic

/ Blog Post

By Allie Yang-Green, senior program manager at Equal Justice Works

As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly changes the legal services landscape, attorneys, courts, and administrative agencies are searching for ways to continue providing key services while balancing public health concerns and the rights of those involved. Many Equal Justice Works Fellows, including over sixty in the Crime Victim Justice Corps, serve survivors of human trafficking and other crimes. They are on the frontlines of protecting survivors’ rights and safety in this challenging time.

Although pandemic-related restrictions have forced Fellows to postpone or digitally host many education and outreach events, their commitment to represent survivors does not cease. Fellows are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their clients under remote work arrangements and finding ways to overcome new legal challenges. The National Crime Victim Law Institute, an Equal Justice Works program partner, is currently supporting Fellows with technical assistance that is responsive to the current needs, and sharing resources and updates on victims’ rights issues.

Photo of Jean Ahn

In place of in-person meetings, Fellows are using survivor-centered strategies to provide legal representation virtually. Fellow Jean Ahn at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles allows more time for client meetings by phone, especially when using an interpreter. Doing so allows her clients to fully share their stories and discuss their next steps even when working through an interpreter.

Photo of Noelle Lemon
Photo of Noelle Lemon

Fellow Noelle Lemon, at HIAS Pennsylvania, is sharing information with community partners and working hard to maintain communication with her clients. One of her clients has an upcoming interview at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office that is scheduled the day the office is slated to re-open. Noelle has been advising her client over the phone to ensure that they are ready for the interview. She is carefully navigating the uncertainty of the government agency’s shifting schedules and its operational capacity so that she can be the trusted counselor to the immigrant trafficking survivor she is helping.

Photo of Marissa Mowery
Photo of Marissa Mowery

While some Fellows are navigating maintaining communication with their clients, other Fellows are working outside the box to tackle logistical issues amid social distancing measures. Fellow Marissa Mowery, hosted by the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, is crafting a due process argument so that the federal administrative agency will accept her client’s digital signature, instead of a wet signature, ensuring that the client does not have to risk their safety to deliver the physical document.

Photo of Wesleigh Anderson
Photo of Wesleigh Anderson

Not all challenges have ready-made solutions. Fellow Wesleigh Anderson, hosted at Connecticut Legal Services, recently helped his client obtain an emergency protective order, but the court’s reduced operation schedule currently limits clients’ ability to have hearings on other non-emergency matters. Yet even in these circumstances, Wesleigh and other Fellows continue to counsel their clients, inform them of their rights, and take significant steps to preserve their claims—all critical elements in survivor-centered legal service.

Beyond continuing their current work with survivors, our Fellows are playing a crucial role in addressing emerging issues in victims’ rights during this public health crisis. As courts across the country adopt new rules and procedures to cope with the impact of COVID-19, Fellows are ensuring that survivor’s rights are not overlooked. They are providing survivors the opportunity to seek privacy protection, participate in proceedings remotely, and access relevant information, including the release of their offenders to protect their safety.

While no community is spared of the devastation of COVID-19, Fellows in the Crime Victim Justice Corps are an integral part of the national efforts to maintain access to justice for underserved communities in these uncertain times.

To learn more about the work of our Crime Victims Justice Corps, click here.

Crime Victims Justice Corps is supported by an award from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime, Award Number 2017-MU-MU-K131, and private funding. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Fellows are working harder than ever to meet the needs of their clients under remote work arrangements and finding ways to overcome new legal challenges.

Allie Yang-Green /
Senior Program Manager
Equal Justice Works

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow