Bridging the Justice Gap in Virginia

The Action Alliance’s newly-launched Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (“PES”) helps to bridge the justice gap in Virginia by connecting survivors of intimate partner violence with the legal services they need.

Since 1993, the Action Alliance has provided sexual assault and domestic violence survivors with emotional support, safety planning, and other trauma-informed services through its toll-free statewide hotline. Over the years, the hotline (and the demand for hotline services) has grown by leaps and bounds, including by adding a dedicated LGBTQ+ helpline, expanding hotline hours to provide 24/7/365 support, and increasing the number of multilingual advocates who are available to answer calls from survivors.

The PES, the hotline’s new legal services division, is a natural outgrowth of these existing services. Survivors often have legal questions in addition to other inquiries. While some callers can access the legal services they need through Legal Aid or other pro bono resources, numerous studies confirm the ever-widening justice gap in Virginia and elsewhere.

The “justice gap” refers to the civil legal needs of low-income Americans, versus the legal resources available to meet those needs.[1] In Virginia alone:

  • Over 80% of the civil legal needs of low-income individuals go unmet;
  • One in eight Virginians is eligible for free legal services from Legal Aid, but there are not enough Legal Aid attorneys available to meet the need for services;
  • There is one Legal Aid lawyer per 7,237 low-income individuals in Virginia; and
  • Individuals who have attorneys are twice as likely to have a favorable outcome in court, versus individuals who are unrepresented.[2]

The need for free or low-cost legal services is particularly acute for survivors of intimate partner violence, where “[i]ndirect and lasting economic consequences ripple throughout survivors’ lives long after the abuse has stopped, compounding their effects and creating increased vulnerability to future abuse.”[3]

Open sign-james-sutton-199643

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

The PES seeks to bridge the justice gap for survivors in the following ways:

  • By partnering with local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies to identify survivors who need legal services;
  • By employing dedicated legal interns and advocates to answer legal questions and provide legal information to survivors;
  • By employing on-staff attorneys to provide free legal counsel and advice to survivors;
  • By referring survivors to community-based private attorneys who agree to take cases on a reduced fee or pro bono basis;
  • By training attorneys and advocates to provide trauma-informed legal services and legal advocacy; and
  • By helping survivors from marginalized communities pay for private attorneys through the use of our Legal Fund.

If you are a survivor in need of legal services, please call our Statewide Hotline at (800) 838-8238 and ask to speak with a member of our legal team. We are here to help.

If you are an attorney who is interested in providing pro bono or reduced fee services to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, please contact Carmen Williams, PES Project Manager, at (804) 377-0335, or email us at

Janice Craft is one of two attorneys with the Project for Empowerment of Survivors at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Prior to her work with the Action Alliance, Janice served as the statewide policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and clerked for the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Janice is a graduate of William and Mary Law School, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law.

[1] See Legal Services Corporation, America’s Partner for Equal Justice, (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

[2] “Access to Justice: Free and Low Cost Legal Resources in Virginia,” Virginia State Bar, available at (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

[3] Shoener, Sara J. & Sussman, Erika A., “Economic Ripple Effect of IPV: Building Partnerships for Systemic Change,” Domestic Violence Report (Aug./Sept. 2013), available at (last accessed Nov. 17, 2017).

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