The newest addition to the Victim Justice Program (VJP) came to the Legal Clinic by way of the Prosecutor’s Office. For the past several years, Annie Anderson prosecuted major felonies and worked some jury trials, with cases involving crimes like kidnapping, confinement, and armed robberies. While she enjoyed seeking justice for victims in the courtroom, she found herself wanting to work more directly with those in need. And so, when the Clinic received a VOCA grant through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute late last year, VJP was expanded and a new attorney position opened up. Annie applied for and was given the job. “I was excited to be on mission with people who were actively and primarily serving the disenfranchised and the marginalized in Indianapolis,” she says.
Many of the clients who come to the Victim Justice Program do so thanks to various partnerships with agencies like the Julian Center and Families First. Annie says, “We are serving indigent victims who are seeking either some form of immigration relief based on their status as a victim … and/or they are seeking family law representation—most commonly a divorce—because of that same kind of abuse.” Ultimately, the work that VJP does is empowering to the victim. Paralegal Karen Salazar says, “I feel great satisfaction when survivors stand up to their abusers and say they will no longer be victims.”
Before the expansion of VJP, their caseload was astronomical. The addition of Annie, along with her new paralegal, Grecia Mercado, is helping to alleviate some of that pressure. For Grecia, this work is especially meaningful when she can see the hope her clients have during intake. Ultimately, even if the Clinic is unable to take a case, just finally being heard can be incredibly important to the client. “Everyone has a story,” Grecia says, “And we are the audience for them at that moment.” Immigrant Advocate Noemí Gallegos adds, “It is a privilege to help with these burdens through prayer, meaningful referrals to other services, and pro bono representation.”
Currently, Annie is working on a case for a woman who came to this country as a result of an arranged marriage. “The husband was stifling and physically and emotionally and psychologically abusive from day one,” Annie says. “[The client] has been under his tight, tight grip and control ever since she got to the States.” Erica Harrigan, another VJP Staff Attorney, says that such stories are not at all uncommon. “A majority of our clients have survived horrific life circumstances in situations of domestic violence, human trafficking, or sexual assault and genuinely want to work hard and provide a good life for their children here in the US,” she says. “If they can fix their legal issues without paying huge fees, it gives them so much freedom to do that.”
To that end, the Clinic is in the midst of pursuing immigration relief for Annie’s client. Annie recalls a recent phone call with her. “She told me that I was her only hope and it really rocked me because in that exact moment, I thought, ‘I’m not her only hope. I’m a fallible, mortal human being and I’m just doing the best I can to represent her and be her voice, but there is an eternal hope,’” Annie says. “I tried to convey that message as delicately as possible and yet also be her strongest advocate here.”
To learn more about the Victim Justice Program, please visit our website.