Until she found peace of mind at the Harriett Buhai Center, Valerie lived in a constant state of terror.

Surrounded by a strong team of dedicated Buhai Center lawyers, Valerie and her children received, for the first time, the full legal support her family needed to feel safe.

Living in Terror

Valerie’s* time of living in terror started with her boyfriend’s verbal abuse when she first became pregnant. To prevent her second pregnancy which he did not want, he sat on her stomach while trying to suffocate her with a pillow. He often accused her of cheating on him, punishing her with a black eye or punch in the face in front of the children. Once he strangled her to unconsciousness, and the police came and arrested him. But for a lot of reasons, Valerie, alone, could not get to court, and the charges were dropped.

Too Afraid to Leave

During their early years together, Valerie forgave her boyfriend, the father of her two children, believing his promises that he would not hurt her again. When she realized his violence would not stop, she grew afraid of what he might do if she tried to leave. But one night, he exploded with anger and beat her with his gun. Hoping to stop his attack, she offered to go somewhere with him. He forced her to drive for hours at gunpoint. Using quick thinking, she saw police on the road investigating an accident and stopped. They immediately arrested him. Convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, he was sentenced to prison.

A Short Reprieve

When her ex-boyfriend was in prison, Valerie’s life was quiet, and she returned to school. But her fear resurfaced when he was released and found them. He said he wanted to start over with his children, and she allowed him to visit because he was their father. His verbal abuse escalated, and he threatened to take the children. When she found out that he had whipped one of the children during a visit, she knew she had to do something.

The “Amazing” Harriett Buhai Center Legal Team

Through a longstanding partnership between her community college and the Harriett Buhai Center, Valerie’s counselors referred her for free family law help. She was able to get an appointment right away, and soon a judge gave her orders for custody and protection. At the full hearing three weeks later, the Center’s pro bono attorney, Lauren Youngman, represented Valerie. With Lauren at her side, she obtained a five-year restraining order. The judge made a final determination of custody and ordered that the father could have contact with the children only if it were professionally monitored visitation payable at his expense and after completion of certain classes.

Based on her experience, Valerie wants to go to law school. “I am so inspired by the amazing women attorneys who helped me,” Valerie recently said. “I hope to be an attorney, so I can help others like me.

*Client’s name and photo have been changed to protect her privacy.

September 2022