In the Fight for Justice: Meet Maria
Maria talks about the courage of her clients, how COVID-19 is impacting victims, and the importance of trauma-informed care.
Maria is an Intake Specialist with Texas Legal Services Center's Crime Victims Program. Pictured is Maria working from her home office due to COVID-19.
Meet Maria, an Intake Specialist in our Crime Victims Litigation Program. When a victim calls seeking help, Maria's is the first voice they hear. Her patience, calm demeanor, and compassion are reassuring and a momentary refuge for those in crisis.
On the courage of victims seeking help
Even though callers are in crisis, there is something to celebrate — they are getting help. It takes a lot of courage on their part to make that first call. Knowing that I'm a part of their journey forward fills me with great satisfaction and gratitude.
On the client's rights and decisions
Our team's mission is to assist clients — not only with obtaining protective orders — but with criminal justice advocacy. It is just as important to let clients know their rights, options, and the realities of their case. We have to remember something very important: In the end, it is the client who decides how they want to approach their case. While we are the experts on the legal front, they are the experts on themselves. And that means they ultimately choose how to proceed.
On the process
When a client reaches out to us for the first time (either by phone or through the online intake), they have a range of expectations. Sometimes they have reached out to other organizations for help and have been denied.
When we're on the phone, the first thing I ask is if that person is in a safe place to have the conversation. I then explain how our program works and invite them, if they wish, to do a formal intake process. If they agree, I arrange for the client to speak about their situation in more detail with one of our legal advocates (who in turn, work with our attorneys).
If for some reason they do not qualify for our program, I always provide other legal resources. There is a wide variety available for low-income individuals and we can usually arrange for help — even if it's not directly from us.
On how COVID-19 is impacting victims
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected our clients in drastic ways. Those reaching out are not only dealing with domestic violence and/or sexual assault, but also with the abuser who is living under the same roof. Some have lost their jobs and/or their children are not going to school. The stress level is much higher. The abuser's tolerance level is minimal and their emotional state much more sensitive. When I'm talking to clients, I'm mindful to be even more empathetic and patient.
On the importance of providing trauma-informed care
Trauma-informed care means having the compassion, patience, and understanding that all behaviors, actions, reactions, and responses of victims are inspired by untreated and unresolved trauma. What do I mean by this? A potential client’s experience of trauma impacts every area of functioning, including physical, mental, behavioral, and social aspects. Trauma-informed care means treating a whole person, taking into account past trauma, and the resulting coping mechanisms when attempting to understand behaviors and offer assistance.
On realizing her calling
I've always had a desire to serve others. I have volunteered at the American Red Cross, Austin Police Department, Victims Services, Foundation Communities, and SAFE Alliance. During a training course in 2012, I realized that domestic violence was a common thread throughout my work. But it was also personal. It affected my best friend, my neighbor, my coworkers. I realized that this was truly an epidemic and it was my calling to address it.
I've said to myself too many times, "if I had realized this earlier, perhaps I could have done much more." However, I cannot change the past, but I can change the future for many of our clients. I love being part of the change. I can truly say I'm lucky to have a job that I love.
On what she’d say to abuse victims who have not come forward
You are not alone, although you may believe or feel at many times that there is no way out. If and when you are ready, we are here.