By Susan Dalati, CILS Escondido office Staff Attorney

In 2015, California Indian Legal Services (“CILS”) created a Legal Team consisting of an attorney and legal advocate to handle legal issues pertaining to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking. The Legal Team members both came from a social service agency where they handled the same types of legal matters. The Legal Team emphasizes working with the Native American communities, primarily in San Diego and Riverside Counties.

Domestic violence is prevalent in many communities, including Indian country. Native American women, in particular, face a higher risk that they will become a victim of domestic violence than the general population, although the Legal Team works with both male and female clients. The Legal Team has been specially trained on the unique issues Native Americans face when they enter the legal system to deal with domestic violence occurring in their households.

One of the biggest challenges is the fact that many victims/survivors lack adequate transportation to be able to get to attorneys, advocates, and the Courts. The Legal Team has tried to alleviate some of their clients’ transportation challenges by providing mobile services for legal appointments as well as walk-in clinics on several local reservations and at Indian Health clinics. However, transportation issues remain when clients need to attend court hearings. The Legal Team tries to connect clients with agencies that can assist with transportation needs.

Some domestic violence victims/survivors (and their children) face homelessness if they decide to leave the abusive household to seek safety. Many victims/survivors have lived on reservations their whole lives and do not want to leave their community. Unfortunately, often it is not safe to stay on the reservation, due to the proximity of the perpetrator. Housing options may be limited, and we are aware of only one Native American domestic violence shelter in San Diego County.  The Legal Team will work with their Clients when this issue arises to explore all options available.

There is a lot of misinformation going around about the rights of domestic violence victims/survivors. It is important that victims/survivors meet with an attorney to learn about their rights and potential legal remedies even if they do not intend to leave the relationship. The Legal Team provides confidential, trauma-informed, judgment-free, culturally appropriate holistic services and serves both male and female clients. Services are free; they are not income-based. The Legal Team does not pressure clients to take any particular action. Rather, they assess their client’s case and present them with options and the pros and cons of each, thereby empowering the client to make an informed decision.

The Legal Team has developed many collaborative relationships with community partners. Therefore, if the client desires services that are outside of their scope, the Legal Team, with their client’s permission, will work with other agencies to address their client’s needs.

More information here.