ITHACA, N.Y. — With the award of a $602,346 grant, the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County will develop a program that will provide high-quality, trauma-informed legal representation for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The New York State Office of Victim Services has awarded the grant to the Advocacy Center. The five-year grant will allow the agency to hire a full-time attorney to represent victims of abuse and help people who face barriers accessing legal representation and consultation.

“This grant will allow us to increase quality, trauma informed civil representation for some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” Heather Campbell, executive director of the Advocacy Center, said in a news release. “Legal representation is one of the most requested services from victims of domestic violence and we have struggled to meet these needs in our community. The new Civil Legal Services Program is an important step in making sure that all survivors of abuse are able to access the representation they deserve.”

Related: Take Back the Night: 1,300 people in Tompkins sought help for domestic and sexual violence in 2017

Citing data from the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, the Advocacy Center said many people in New York go to court without legal counsel and “the challenges for victims of abuse are even more pronounced.” They must navigate complicated systems at a time when they are traumatized and overwhelmed.

Some of those systems can include family court, housing court, employment, immigration issues, Title IX proceedings and financial or credit issues. And undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ survivors, and victims of sex trafficking often face even higher barriers to legal services, the Advocacy Center said.

“The agency has long identified the gaps in legal services in our county and the increased risks to safety for victims of abuse and their children that are the result of inadequate legal representation. We’re grateful that the Office of Victim Services recognized this need and, although this won’t address all the unmet needs in our community, this will greatly increase access to quality representation for victims of abuse,” Dawn Kline, president of the Advocacy Center Board of Directors, said in a news release.

For more information about the Advocacy Center, visit their website. People who need support can access their hotline 24/7 at 607-277-5000.

Featured image: The Clothesline Project, with a display in Dewitt Park in Ithaca last year, raised awareness about different types of victimization and abuse, particularly domestic violence. (File Photo)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.