Saturday, July 27, 2002

Program assists
abused spouses

By Leila Fujimori

Barbara, a 53-year-old woman, endured an abusive husband for 30 years.

"It was really like living in a prison," she said.

But she mustered the courage to leave him last month with the help of Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, which helped her get a permanent restraining order against her husband.

"I'm really grateful to this program," Barbara, who asked her last name not be used. "They're like my boat in churning water. Now I can get up and smile. I'm on my way to getting my life together."

Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii is assisting domestic- abuse victims to get temporary restraining orders at the VLSH/AmeriCorps Students and Advocates for Victims of Domestic Violence office. It is the first time the orders have been made available outside the Adult Services Branch of the court, said Judy Sobin, VLSH executive director.

A temporary restraining order is signed by a judge and filed with the court, and is effective for 90 days until a further court order.

Sobin acknowledged that a TRO could make the situation more dangerous, but the group also helps women to take precautions, and find a safe place and housing, if needed.

"We work with each victim individually," Sobin said. "We will assess the situation individually and give her all the choices."

"There has been an increase in domestic violence this past year," said Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland (D, Palama, Alewa Heights). "When you have an economy not doing well, it exacerbates the situation."

She hopes for greater awareness of domestic violence and more education.

Because of the increase in domestic violence, the two groups are helping people increase access to the legal system and the TRO process, while easing the burden on the courts. It also provides a non-threatening environment where the legal process can begin.

Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii is also working with the University of Hawaii to devise a plan to treat the entire family, for those who decide to stay together, Sobin said.

The service is available weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but volunteers have been going out to individuals where they live outside normal business hours.

Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii provides civil legal services to the indigent, operating on donations and with volunteers, mainly attorneys, but include people of all walks of life.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 566-0661. Those interested in volunteering may call 528-7046.

E-mail to City Desk


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