At the end of the day, that spirit, that strength of women who get
to escape with their lives and their children’s lives, that’s what
DV LEAP safeguards.
- Julie Z., DV LEAP Legal Volunteer

Our Work

In our collective 40 years of experience, we have walked survivors through the trenches of the domestic violence legal system, over and over again. This boots-on-the-ground approach has allowed us to produce a surprisingly rare gem: a well-documented playbook for improving the system. Our experience overcoming barriers to justice uniquely positions us to remove them.

Our 3 Areas of Work

Litigation

DV LEAP is a national leader in DV litigation at all levels, including the Supreme Court. Our work holds trial courts accountable to the fairness embodied in the law. Information about eligibility for assistance with an appeal is here.

Consultation and Training

We multiply our impact by providing training and in-depth consultation to lawyers, judges, mental health professionals, litigants, and by sharing resources with key stakeholders.

Policy

DV LEAP partners with advocacy organizations at the local and national level to improve policy and laws. H. Res. Con. 72 makes child safety the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications.

Interactive map with all DV LEAP cases across the country

Open Map


Interactive map of DV LEAP cases across the country

*This is not an exhaustive list of DV LEAP cases. On going cases are not shown here.
Thanks to DV LEAP, I am stronger mentally and I am more confident to face my abuser in court because I now know that there are truly good people in this world who care and will help survivors of domestic violence.

So thank you for not only caring, but for actually helping people like me.
- Survivor and DV LEAP Client
DV LEAP’s cases are high stakes and high impact, and they become precedent for hundreds of subsequent cases.

-Kerri Ruttenberg, Former Partner and Head of litigation, Jones Day


Organizational Progress

Pro Bono Investments
Pro Bono Hours
Pro Bono Partners
Consultations Provided
2019
$5.5M
7618
189
978
2018
$3.5M
5130
101
1130
2017
$3.8M
5746
130
723

SPECIAL PROGRAMS

DC LEAP 

DV LEAP pursues justice for survivors locally and nationally with a strong focus in Washington, DC. Our DC LEAP work includes appellate advocacy, training and technical assistance for advocates, lawyers and judges, and extensive consultations with survivors.

Learn More

Supreme Court Cases

Before DV LEAP was launched in 2003, no domestic violence specific cases were argued before the Supreme Court. That changed within five years of our founding as we helped usher three DV appeals to the high court.

Learn More
One of our earliest clients said something that really resonated and has stuck with me ever since. She said, “You gave me a voice.” Over the last 15 years at DV LEAP, and the many more years I have been in this work, we have observed biases in the courts that are specific to women; patterns that contribute to ongoing unjust court rulings. That is why, in order to create lasting change, we endeavor not just to win appeals, but to ensure women’s voices are heard.

-Joan Meier, Esq., Founder

One of the toughest moments for me was during my work with a survivor, who was a recovered crack addict. The way she could make enough to provide for her son was to work as a prostitute at a migrant work camp. It was just a really difficult situation for her and her son. What struck me was just how shrewd and practical she was about it. I remember her saying how it’s the way she can make enough money to support her son because it’s such a large amount of people in a small area.

Her husband was abusive and also a crack addict, but she had gotten herself clean. There were so many layers stacked against her: she was a DV victim, she was a woman of color, she was a single mother, she couldn’t go back to him, and honestly I just came to a place of realizing my own limitations to help. I mean, I could help her get a protective order so he couldn’t hurt her, but there were so many layers.

On the other side of the coin, what I’ve learned is that sometimes just listening to clients’ stories and acknowledging their struggles and pain is meaningful. They are so grateful. It really makes a difference. Just that small act seems so little compared to all the issues clients are facing, but it can be both healing and far reaching.

A recent New York case is a good example of the long term impact our work can have. A custody evaluator who clearly did not like our client, the mom, wrote a very negative report and the court took away her custody based on that report without giving her an opportunity to challenge the information or defend herself. It was a clear violation of her due process rights. We had a positive outcome in that case, and within a one year turnaround, other cases have cited it saying: we can’t do this, because of this ruling -- we can’t take away a parent’s custody rights without giving them an opportunity to be heard in some kind of hearing.

I feel so fortunate to work with the attorneys in our pro bono network, they are smart, professional and truly committed to our mission. For example in one case we had, the abusive father lost custody, but his mother was attempting to gain custody of the child as a roundabout way of maintaining access for her son. The pro-bono legal team devoted endless hours to the case. We spent days getting the briefs just right for the appeal. 

The team is from one of the top law firms in the country and their work is so impressive. And it’s not just the quality of the lawyers--it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. And we could offer this mom the support of a whole legal team--something she never would have been able to afford. This mom had very limited financial resources but that type of legal support is not something even the average middle class person could ever access or afford.

It’s leveled the playing field. You can hear the change just in her voice. She had felt so beaten down. The grandmother has money and is well-respected in the community. Mom takes great care of her son but couldn’t always afford a lawyer and had to represent herself at times. Grandmother’s lawyer took advantage of that and tried to paint her as crazy and unable to properly care for her child. She felt alone, outgunned. But DV LEAP’s involvement has given her her life back. She feels she has a voice, the tables are turned. Mom is harder to bully now.

She is growing more confident with this team behind her; more hopeful.

When the public has trouble believing courts would do this to survivors, first, I try to put myself in their shoes. That was me before I came to DV LEAP. I was a clerk for this really great judge. I practiced in a small town and felt that, for the most part, my clients got justice. Then I came to DV LEAP and there were these cases that were so absurd and contradictory to justice-- I didn’t want them to be true and just had a hard time absorbing it. But over time, the things that we’ve seen... there is no easy way to explain it. The desk is stacked against survivors in so many ways.

So what DV LEAP was able to do is explain to me all these surprises that I wasn’t expecting in the court system. But also, moving forward, they really helped me strategize, like witnesses, how we’re gonna present things, because they’d already seen where things go wrong. It actually helped me a lot in the trial phase. We strategized how we presented the evidence in the custody trial to help us prepare for what we thought was going to be an appeal.  It ended up working out that I got full legal custody. At that point, they ordered like 6 months of supervised visitation which we ended up fighting about for years, and eventually visitation was terminated completely.

When visitation was terminated, *Stephanie was 8. And I said to her, “The judge said you don’t have to go back anymore.” And she looked at me and said, “Are you serious, is this real?” And I said, “It’s very real.” She looked at me and said, “This is the best day ever.”  And she just looked off, and that was the end of it. It was incredible. And ever since then, she’s not had to go back. She is a completely normal and happy kid because she no longer has that fear.

I read articles on a daily basis of somebody [who] tried to leave; their kids were forced back to see the abuser, and those kids are dead. Or the kids and their mom are dead. Nobody who’s in that situation should have to feel like there’s death on either side. You know what I mean?

Every time my kids went to unsupervised visitation, I was worried I’d never see them again.

I am so lucky. I totally lucked out. I think it’s a very rare outcome to be where I am, and I attribute a lot of that to my fortunate circumstances in being able to have Joan guide us through what we were doing.

So what DV LEAP was able to do is explain to me all these surprises that I wasn’t expecting in the court system. But also, moving forward, they really helped me strategize, like witnesses, how we’re gonna present things, because they’d already seen where things go wrong. It actually helped me a lot in the trial phase. We strategized how we presented the evidence in the custody trial to help us prepare for what we thought was going to be an appeal.  It ended up working out that I got full legal custody. At that point, they ordered like 6 months of supervised visitation which we ended up fighting about for years, and eventually visitation was terminated completely.

When visitation was terminated, *Stephanie was 8. And I said to her, “The judge said you don’t have to go back anymore.” And she looked at me and said, “Are you serious, is this real?” And I said, “It’s very real.” She looked at me and said, “This is the best day ever.”  And she just looked off, and that was the end of it. It was incredible. And ever since then, she’s not had to go back. She is a completely normal and happy kid because she no longer has that fear.

Sasha Drobnick
Legal Director
link to the story page
Legal Director
Sasha Drobnick

One of the toughest moments for me was during my work with a survivor, who was a recovered crack addict. The way she could make enough to provide for her son was to work as a prostitute at a migrant work camp. It was just a really difficult situation for her and her son. What struck me was just how shrewd and practical she was about it. I remember her saying how it’s the way she can make enough money to support her son because it’s such a large amount of people in a small area.

Her husband was abusive and also a crack addict, but she had gotten herself clean. There were so many layers stacked against her: she was a DV victim, she was a woman of color, she was a single mother, she couldn’t go back to him, and honestly I just came to a place of realizing my own limitations to help. I mean, I could help her get a protective order so he couldn’t hurt her, but there were so many layers.

On the other side of the coin, what I’ve learned is that sometimes just listening to clients’ stories and acknowledging their struggles and pain is meaningful. They are so grateful. It really makes a difference. Just that small act seems so little compared to all the issues clients are facing, but it can be both healing and far reaching.

A recent New York case is a good example of the long term impact our work can have. A custody evaluator who clearly did not like our client, the mom, wrote a very negative report and the court took away her custody based on that report without giving her an opportunity to challenge the information or defend herself. It was a clear violation of her due process rights. We had a positive outcome in that case, and within a one year turnaround, other cases have cited it saying: we can’t do this, because of this ruling -- we can’t take away a parent’s custody rights without giving them an opportunity to be heard in some kind of hearing.

I feel so fortunate to work with the attorneys in our pro bono network, they are smart, professional and truly committed to our mission. For example in one case we had, the abusive father lost custody, but his mother was attempting to gain custody of the child as a roundabout way of maintaining access for her son. The pro-bono legal team devoted endless hours to the case. We spent days getting the briefs just right for the appeal. 

The team is from one of the top law firms in the country and their work is so impressive. And it’s not just the quality of the lawyers--it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. And we could offer this mom the support of a whole legal team--something she never would have been able to afford. This mom had very limited financial resources but that type of legal support is not something even the average middle class person could ever access or afford.

It’s leveled the playing field. You can hear the change just in her voice. She had felt so beaten down. The grandmother has money and is well-respected in the community. Mom takes great care of her son but couldn’t always afford a lawyer and had to represent herself at times. Grandmother’s lawyer took advantage of that and tried to paint her as crazy and unable to properly care for her child. She felt alone, outgunned. But DV LEAP’s involvement has given her her life back. She feels she has a voice, the tables are turned. Mom is harder to bully now.

She is growing more confident with this team behind her; more hopeful.

When the public has trouble believing courts would do this to survivors, first, I try to put myself in their shoes. That was me before I came to DV LEAP. I was a clerk for this really great judge. I practiced in a small town and felt that, for the most part, my clients got justice. Then I came to DV LEAP and there were these cases that were so absurd and contradictory to justice-- I didn’t want them to be true and just had a hard time absorbing it. But over time, the things that we’ve seen... there is no easy way to explain it. The desk is stacked against survivors in so many ways.

Unfortunately, my advice to any survivor is: be strategic. You think, I’ll do the right thing, I’ll go into the court and tell them what’s happening. I’ll report what’s happening and I will be able to protect myself and my children. But often that is not what happens. They need to know, the court might not be a friendly place to a survivor. It’s a sad and depressing piece of advice about this institution that is supposed to protect you, but I can’t tell you how many survivors and mothers have come to me saying: I went in and told them, I did what I was supposed to do, and now I’ve lost everything.

Sasha Drobnick is the Legal Director at the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) in Washington, D.C., where she litigates appeals, conducts trainings and provides consultations on family violence issues. Sasha formerly practiced family and domestic violence law in Maryland with a focus on low income communities and received service awards from both the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence and the Mid-Shore Pro Bono Center. In her early career, Sasha worked extensively in South Africa to promote women’s equal access to higher education. Sasha received her B.A. from Georgetown University and J.D. from New York University School of Law.

link to the story page
Executive Director
Lee Ann De Reus

Lee Ann brings a unique combination of nonprofit leadership and academic scholarship to her role as Executive Director of DV LEAP. An ardent advocate for women's and human rights, she has over two decades of experience linking research and action for change to benefit vulnerable groups in the US and in Africa. Dr. De Reus is an internationally recognized expert on gender, sexualized violence, women’s rights, and activism with speaking engagements at TEDxPSU, the Oslo Freedom Forum, and France24 TV.

She is the co-founder and chair of the board of directors of Panzi Foundation USA, a nonprofit that assists survivors of gender-based violence at Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under her leadership, the funds raised by the Foundation increased tenfold in only four years. Her efforts on behalf of PFUSA were recognized by Purdue University, her alma mater, with the 2017 Distinguished Service Alumni Award. At Penn State Altoona, Dr. De Reus was an associate professor for 20 years in the departments of Human Development and Family Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies where she conducted research on gender-based violence and taught courses on intimate partner and family violence.

link to the story page
Staff Attorney
Elizabeth Vogel

Elizabeth (Lizzy) is a staff attorney at DV LEAP where she contributes to DV LEAP’s efforts to make the law work for survivors of domestic violence.  Lizzy is thrilled to be using the skills and knowledge she gained as a family law litigator over the past five year to create structural change by supporting DV LEAP’s expert pro bono advocacy that advances legal protections for survivors by challenging unjust trial outcomes at the appeals level.  Prior to joining DV LEAP, Lizzy was a family law staff attorney at Bread for the City where she advocated on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. Lizzy started her legal career at Neighborhood Legal Services Program, first as a Howard C. Westwood Fellow and then as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by The Morrison & Foerster Foundation. Her Equal Justice Works Fellowship focused on the family law needs of teen parents.  

Lizzy obtained her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center,  where she was a recipient of the Jeffrey Crandall Award (awarded annually by Georgetown to one graduating law student for their commitment to legal aid), Equal Justice America Fellowship, and J.W. Saxe Memorial Fund Award. Lizzy received her B.A. from Swarthmore College with a special major in Educational Studies and Political Science. Prior to law school, Lizzy spent five years teaching middle school English in the Bronx. She also received a Master’s Degree in Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education.

link to the story page
Development Associate
Flora Patel

As the youngest hire to the team, Flora brings passion and dedication to her role as Development Associate. In addition to running DV LEAP’s social media pages and website, Flora analyzes data, coordinates events, and cultivates relationships with donors.

Flora discovered her passion for nonprofit work and college football as a student at the University of Georgia where she double majored in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Women’s Studies. She’s has worked for the Human Rights Campaign and with the University of Georgia’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, which opened her eyes to the world of fundraising and development. As a first-generation American and survivor herself, Flora’s desire to help others stems from her own experiences, and she takes pride in that she is able to use her skills to advocate for survivors.

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