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  • Volume 8 | Summer 2007

get to know the commission

In this section of the eNewsletter, we introduce you to a member of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence to increase an understanding of the Commission, its members, and its work.

Dr. Elaine AlpertIn this edition, we hear from third-year Commission member Dr. Elaine Alpert, Associate Professor of Public Health and Medicine at Boston University School of Public Health, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Alpert was thrilled to be nominated to the Commission, partly because she felt it was an honor to serve on such a respected body, and because she was personally interested in learning more about the legal response to domestic violence. She also serves on an American Medical Association entity that is the ABA Commission’s cousin — the AMA National Advisory Council on Violence and Abuse—and hoped to be able to contribute a bit of non-legal perspective to the Commission’s work.

Dr. Alpert has been engaged in scholarly and direct service efforts in family violence for two decades, noting that she has a dual identity as a teacher and as a physician. While the bulk of her professional energies have been devoted to creating and implementing healthcare and public health training curricula in family violence, she has also been engaged in a number of advocacy and policy efforts. In addition, Dr. Alpert has authored numerous articles and chapters, and has spoken extensively both nationally and internationally about responding to and preventing violence and abuse.

Dr. Alpert identifies three major challenges in increasing access to justice for domestic violence victims: access, comfort and education. First, she says, it is very difficult for most survivors to access quality legal resources. Most survivors either can’t afford quality legal representation or have difficulty accessing it due to safety concerns, logistics, fear of exposure or stigmatization, or finances. Second, the legal system is complicated and very intimidating for most survivors (and for most of the rest of the population too). Lastly, most legal practitioners (whether they are attorneys, judges, magistrates, clerks or others) know very little about the dynamics of domestic violence; the safety, economic and child care concerns of survivors, and how intimidating the legal system can be. Most attorneys don’t know how to inquire about domestic violence, don’t know what to do, and risk blundering their way through a case, thus further alienating the survivor and potentially placing her/him at further risk. She believes the Commission can do a lot to set the standard for legal practice and is glad to be a small part of that.

Finally, Dr. Alpert admires how well organized and run the Commission’s meetings and activities are, and credits the staff and leadership for their organizational skills. She is very impressed with the amount of work that is completed and with the uniformly superb quality of the Commission’s work, whether it be suggesting new legal standards, ABA resolutions, or materials. Moreover, she believes that the educational conferences held by or with the Commission have been outstanding.