Pro Bono Service: An Honor, Not a Burden
By: Nilufar Abdi-Tabari,
“Don’t worry! I’m happy. I’m happy because I am finally free.” In a surprising reversal of roles, I realized “T”, my client, was trying to comfort … She must have seen the tears I had tried to blink away.
For almost a year, I have been spending my Mondays at the Safe Families Office in the Fulton County Courthouse, where clients are provided assistance in obtaining Ex-Parte and Twelve-Month Protective Orders for intimate partner violence. It was on one of these Mondays that I had the privilege of meeting T, a beautiful young woman with a bright smile and a bubbly sense of humor. The story behind that smile is one that will forever resonate with me.
In T’s case, the abuse began sixteen years earlier, when her mother gave the abuser access to T in exchange for drugs. Since then, T had endured years of extremely violent physical, emotional and psychological abuse at the hands of her abuser, a man 18 years her senior. Today, as a liberated woman, the countless scars and bruises on her body provide a road map to her previous years of physical abuse.
The scars on her ankle direct us to the episode of her jump from a second story window in a vain effort to escape her knife-yielding abuser, only to break her ankle when she landed, leaving her unable to escape. Her abuser then took her back into their home and kept her there for three weeks, waiting for the bruises on her body to heal before taking her to the hospital to be treated for her broken bones. The faded bruises on her neck lead to her eventual escape, a desperate run to a local post office after forty-eight hours of constant physical abuse. This journey of abuse and violence culminated in T’s arrival at the Safe Families Office, a refuge and place of aid for women in T’s situation.
As she finished her story, she looked at me and smiled. Against all odds, T was experiencing happiness because, for the first time in 16 years, she was free from abuse—regardless of the journey that lay ahead of her, she had successfully left her past behind. I could feel her joy and hope shining through the fading bruises. In that moment, I realized what a privilege it was to be able to stand beside her and provide some ease, comfort and assistance as she sought a protective order.
Through this encounter and many more like it, I have come to realize that providing pro bono services to the many victims that come through the Domestic Violence Program of the AVLF in the Safe Families Office is not only an invaluable service to these clients, but also a remarkable honor for me as a young attorney. At the Safe Families Office, I have found both a community of colleagues and friends among the many amazing attorneys with whom I have had the honor of working. And on occasion, I have been blessed by the comforting word and smile from those most in need of the same.