Victim Justice Program: Serving the Most Vulnerable

Patti Le Sesne VJP Manager

Patti Le Sesne, Victim Justice Program Manager

Every Wednesday morning at the main office, while new clients attend an intake session to discuss their legal issues with attorneys and staff, we are also looking to identify even those needs that are unspoken. One such client was recently seeking immigration assistance when the intake attorney recognized the signs that the client was likely a victim of human trafficking.

Since the Clinic first opened its doors, the structure and method in which services are provided have changed from case type category to programmatic category; for instance, refugees and U-Visa clients are no longer grouped together simply because they both involve immigration. Rather, the root cause of their need is paramount in categorizing services.

For the recent suspected victim of human trafficking, this shift allowed the intake attorney to call on Patti Le Sesne’s assistance. At the Clinic, Patti serves as the Victim Justice Program (VJP) Manager, which is designed to provide holistic legal services and meaningful referrals to victims of violent crimes like domestic violence, sexual assault, armed robbery, and human trafficking, among others. By bringing Patti into the conversation, she is able to give clients information regarding free counseling, as well as to determine if the client has access to safe housing and other resources and programs that may be available to them.

This information oftentimes includes a “warm referral” to our partner agencies, like The Julian Center, Families First, or Indiana Protection for Abused & Trafficked Humans (IPATH), meaning that she gives the agency notice that a client will be contacting them. She explains, “We don’t want to call for [the client] because we want them to take ownership of it and they’re more likely to follow up and stick with the advocate if they call on their own and take that initiative.” Thus, much of Patti’s work goes on behind the scenes as she connects our clients to outside resources or directs the client referrals she gets from other agencies through our legal services.

Part of this work also involves educating the Legal Clinic staff on some of the nuances of assisting victims of violence. In the coming weeks, Patti has arranged for someone to give a staff presentation on Trauma Informed Care. She says this kind of training is important to help service providers understand how trauma might affect a client’s actions, saying, “With some of our clients, someone might think, ‘Why aren’t they following through?’ Well if they’ve been through a lot of trauma, there’s actual science behind why they’re not following up with something that seems so important.”

In addition to educating and strengthening our ties to other agencies in the community, the Victim Justice Program has also brought about a seismic shift in Legal Clinic services: through VJP, we now assist our clients with divorce, a service notably excluded for many years. Patti says, “It was actually a big deal at the beginning of the program trying to figure out … if divorce is something that we should do because we didn’t do it beforehand. But it makes sense in this situation because it can be life-threatening if you stay in that [violent relationship].” For Kelsey Raves, a staff attorney for VJP who handles many of these divorce cases, this shift in perspective makes complete sense. She says, “Pretty much all my clients … are 100% terrified of their spouse and I just can’t imagine what that’s actually like.”

Such upsetting cases can be difficult to see everyday, so Patti and the rest of the VJP staff try to remember the higher purpose behind their work. Patti says, “This population is what I would consider the most vulnerable, especially the immigrants and human trafficking victims. So just knowing that we’re called to help the vulnerable, I would say that really, when it’s hard, you just reflect on that. These are the people who need help the most.”

To learn more about the Legal Clinic’s Victim Justice Program, please visit our website at http://www.nclegalclinic.org/Services/VictimJusticeProgram.aspx or contact Patti Le Sesne at plesesne@nclegalclinic.org to find out about volunteer opportunities.