Meeting survivors of domestic violence – and our allies – where they are — Posted October 16, 2017

NHLA advocates Poppi Ritacco and Jillian Reihl, who do much of their work at domestic violence crisis centers and community health centers.

Three new members of the NHLA team, Kaitlin Gauthier, Jillian Reihl and Poppi Ritacco, spend more time outside of their legal offices than in them. That’s because Gauthier, Reihl and Ritacco are working to help survivors of domestic violence, and are stationed regularly at community agencies.

Gauthier, who previously worked in private practice, divides her time between the HAVEN crisis centers in Salem, Portsmouth and at the Strafford County Family Justice Center in Rochester.

Reihl, who spent the first five years of her career practicing immigration law in Manchester, splits her time between local domestic violence crisis centers and will soon be part of the new Family Justice Center in Manchester. Ritacco, a former prosecutor in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., works with a crisis center in Concord and a community health center. in Manchester

In these community settings, their work begins before a survivor even arrives, by training and educating crisis center staff on the legal process for protective orders and divorce and parenting cases.

“We want to make sure that anyone who is giving a survivor advice knows the best way forward,” Reihl says. When a survivor is referred to her for help, Reihl helps file their strongest petition for a protective order, and refers many cases on to volunteer DOVE attorneys.

“Too often, when people file these petitions on their own, they leave out important information, and the DOVE volunteer isn’t given the strongest case possible,” she says. Reihl also steps in occasionally to take on cases for full representation when they aren’t a good fit for a volunteer, such as when there are substantial language barriers or an issue in the case that could have a broader impact.

Gauthier provides counsel, advice and representation to domestic violence victims in various aspects of protective order cases. “Our goal is to provide victims with a strong voice so that they are not facing their abuser alone in the already intimidating courtroom setting. We want to ensure that they receive not only the protection that they need to remain safe, but the relief that they need to move forward with their lives.”

Ritacco represents clients in parenting and divorce cases that can take years to resolve.

“The challenges of court proceedings for immigrants and refugees are often compounded by language barriers and by isolation victims may face coming from traditionally patriarchal communities,” Ritacco says.

“It’s exciting in our program that we are able to not only represent individual clients but also to advocate for systemic change. When over and over again, we find that clients are running into the same brick wall, we can try and tear down that wall, or at least rearrange the bricks, so it’s no longer an insurmountable barrier to the court system.”