Law School professor awarded for work with domestic abuse victims

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Joan Meier says she sees the worst part of the justice system every day.

As the co-founder of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, the GW Law School professor said she watches courts fail victims of domestic abuse, sending children back to their abuser, in what she calls a “heavy job.” Meier and her colleagues give legal assistance to women and children who are on the appellate level of the justice system.

“When you watch an abused child be sent back to her abuser, only to be abused again, that’s hard,” Meier said. “Often women and their legal counsel don’t have the resources to appeal.”

To stay encouraged, Meier said she has to find the “joy, beauty and love” in the world and find justice in the victims who received help. And being optimistic has been easier since July, when the American Bar Association Commission of Domestic Violence awarded the Meier the prestigious Sharon Corbitt Award. The prize money will give hundreds of women access to the resources they need, Meier said.

The award was created as a tribute to the former ABA member Sharon Corbitt, who devoted 25 years of her life to service for victims of domestic violence. Meier is the award’s first recipient.

The Sharon Corbitt Award is presented to lawyers or judges “who demonstrate exemplary service to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking,” according to the ABA’s Commission on Domestic Violence’s Web site.

Meier’s nonprofit also received a $50,000 grant from Avon Foundation to help with funding.

Meier said these recognitions show the “good in the world.”

Judge Pamila Brown, chair of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, said in a ABA news release that, Meier’s “work has helped thousands of victims, opened new paths for victims and fellow advocates, inspired hundreds of students and attorneys, and will leave a lasting impact on the field.”

Meier has been acknowledged nationwide for her expertise on domestic violence issues. She founded three interdisciplinary domestic violence clinical programs that offer victims of domestic violence with legal representation, advocacy, and counseling. The U.S. Department of Justice said her programs are leading national examples of program for abuse victims.

The Corbitt Awards show the domestic violence sphere has evolved, Meier said, but there she adds there is much that needs to be accomplished still.

“This is an incredible honor, and it shows the importance of our work,” said Meier. “We’re filling vacuum in the field of domestic violence and the appellate level. The appellate level is where laws are made,” she said.

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