Legal Education Advocacy Program (LEAP)

Entering a shelter is often the first step to ending an abusive relationship. If victims of intimate partner violence don’t understand their legal options, they may feel compelled to return to their abusers. At URI, we ensure that our shelter residents are educated about their legal rights and have immediate access to the legal support and services they need to achieve and maintain their independence.

Recognizing the critical need to provide immediate legal services to the clients residing in shelter, URI established the Domestic Violence Legal Education and Advocacy Program (LEAP) in May of 2006. LEAP offers legal advice, referrals and assistance on family law issues, such as custody, visitation, orders of protection, child support and divorce, and advocacy on behalf of clients with local police precincts and district attorney offices.

LEAP also provides immigration services by representing undocumented immigrants and filing VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petitions, battered spouse waivers, and U-visa (a nonimmigrant visa for victims of crimes and their immediate family members) petitions. The project also conducts educational workshops and trainings for residents and staff in order to promote self-sufficiency and to support the work of staff at URI’s shelters. The launching of LEAP was a critical step in integrating quality legal support into the comprehensive services URI offers clients, expanding URI’s approach to client-centered domestic violence services.

LEAP utilizes a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to addressing the legal needs of victims of domestic violence through early intervention, innovative education and specialized services. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive response against domestic violence that is rooted in the community, LEAP reaches out to local agencies such as district attorney’s offices, precincts and community-based organizations in order to coordinate services for URI’s shelter residents. LEAP is also a part of various working groups and committees addressing systemic patterns and legal issues and focuses on developing partnerships with outside agencies in order to increase access to expert legal services and trainings for residents and staff.

LEAP in Action: A Case Study

Ms. R. entered into shelter with her two children after suffering from years of psychological and physical abuse. Ms. R. and her two children were undocumented and her husband had used her immigration status to control her. As a result, she was fearful for her future, deeply hurt and traumatized. When Ms. R. met with LEAP, she learned that she and her children were eligible to apply for lawful residency because she was a survivor of domestic violence. LEAP supported Ms. R. through the legal process in challenging her denial of public assistance and helped her obtain an attorney to fight for her benefits. This process took several months. Thanks to LEAP, Ms. R. went from a situation in which she and her children were undocumented with no money and no permanent housing to having a work permit, a steady source of income through public assistance and a housing voucher.