VALPARAISO — A recent domestic violence-related murder in Lake County was especially devastating for Geneva Brown.
Brown is a law professor and director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at the Valparaiso University School of Law.
Although Brown was unconnected to the case of Alessandra De Moraes-Emiliano, it was a sobering event for her and her law students.
De Moraes-Emiliano, 37, was shot to death by her ex-husband inside an Edible Arrangements gift shop in Schererville in January.
“It’s a nightmare situation for anyone who works in this field,” said Brown, who oversees third-year law students on cases of domestic violence.
The Domestic Violence Clinic is a licensed law firm that enables students to gain experience while providing free or low-cost legal services to clients.
Students assist victims of domestic violence who are seeking temporary or permanent restraining orders. They help clients fill out paperwork, represent them in court, and provide legal assistance to residents of domestic violence shelters.
“We’re there from the very beginning,” Brown said.
Clients who have suffered physical abuse may obtain restraining orders, but these aren’t infallible, she said.
“They’re not like magic shields. The idea is you have some recourse if someone violates an order, but in the end nothing is perfect,” Brown said.
The clinic sees about 12 clients each month. While most are women, there have been some men, she said.
Clients are often stay-at-home moms who are financially and emotionally dependent on their husband or partner, and “with that comes a lot of control issues,” Brown said.
Many victims are reluctant to seek help because of shame, or because of cultural backgrounds or family pressures.
Those who do come forward need help understanding the legal process and building trust.
While VU law students seek to build trust by developing a rapport with clients, they must refrain from becoming emotionally involved in a case.
“No one straps on a cape and tries to save people," Brown said. "We are there to assist legally and to counsel clients through a very traumatic experience. We’re not there to meet emotional needs.”
Success is achieved when clients are no longer in a violent relationship, or when counseling enables families to reunite.
Brown is hoping to expand the work her students do with domestic violence and is pursuing a $500,000 federal grant for collateral issues such as divorce, housing and employment.
She ultimately would like to partner with domestic violence shelters and law enforcement, and create a regional resource center.
“Domestic violence is a very private matter that has huge public consequences," Brown said. "When clients do make that decision to end a relationship, we want to be there."
For more information about the Valparaiso University School of Law’s Domestic Violence Clinic, call (219) 465-7903.