Helping Women Who Need Help
By Tami Luhby '92
Though it was more than a decade ago, Jennifer Friedman
’93, ’98L vividly remembers the first call
she received at the Columbia
Rape Crisis Center, which she helped found in 1991.
Jennifer Friedman '93,
PHOTO: CHRIS TAGGART
A young woman telephoned to say she had been attacked in a bathroom
in an off-campus restaurant, but managed to fight off her attacker
before he raped her. Friedman spent an hour on the phone with the
terrified student, consoling her and telling her over and over that
she was not to blame.
That call taught Friedman that women could help each other survive
traumatic times, and it changed her life. It set her on a course
that would lead to her establishing a program to help domestic violence
victims navigate the often-intimidating Family Court system in New
York City.“The power of women to heal and help one another
is very inspirational,” says Friedman, 31, who received Columbia
College Women’s 12th annual Alumna Achievement Award at
a ceremony in Lerner Hall on March 26.
The Courtroom Advocates Project, which Friedman founded while
still in law school, trains students from nine NYC law schools to
assist battered women in court. The students help victims draft
and file petitions for orders of protection, educate them about
their legal rights, advocate for them in the courtroom and refer
them to shelters and counseling services.
“Victims came to court off the street and were never informed
of their rights or the remedies they could ask for from the judge,”
says Friedman, who now directs a staff of five attorneys at CAP.
“They were herded through a bureaucratic system, kept waiting
throughout an entire 8- to 10-hour day — often with infants
or toddlers in tow — and spit out at the end of the day with
little understanding of what had happened.”
This assistance is critical to getting abused women the proper
orders of protection and encouraging them to press forward with
their cases, says Wanda Lucibello, chief of the special victims’
division in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. She admires
Friedman’s ability to set up CAP despite the daunting bureaucracy
of the city’s court system — which initially did not
welcome the program — by advancing in small steps and thanking
people along the way.
Born a feminist, Friedman was raised in Scarsdale, N.Y. She chose
Columbia because she wanted to be in a place where she could learn
about the world, not be ensconced in an “isolated, idyllic
environment that’s out of touch with reality.” A double
major in women’s studies and English, she signed up in her
junior year to be among the first group of peer counselors at what
is now the Barnard
Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center. That’s
where she learned how to craft an organization’s policies
and procedures and garner support from others — skills she
would need later.
After working on substance abuse and welfare issues for two years
after graduation, Friedman returned to Morningside Heights to attend
law school. There, she headed the Columbia
Law School Domestic Violence Project, where legal services agencies
trained students to accompany victims to court. The problem was
that few victims notified the agencies before going to court, so
the lawyers usually were unable to call upon the students.
At the same time, Friedman encountered women who needed such help
while she interned at Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered
Women’s Legal Services, a social service organization in Manhattan.
With the assistance of the Center’s director, Dorchen Leidholdt,
she created a pilot program to provide the victims with student
advocates in court.
“It was really just a matter of putting it all together,”
That pilot grew into CAP, which now trains about 900 students
a year to help women in all five boroughs. Also, more than two dozen
New York City law firms send their summer interns to CAP to do pro-bono
work. The program, which relies on federal grants, has assisted
4,000 victims since its inception.
Many people ask Friedman whether working with domestic violence
victims is depressing, but she says she finds it quite the opposite.
It’s empowering to work with women who are overcoming such
huge challenges, she maintains.
“I admire my clients so deeply,” she says.
Tami Luhby ’92 is a business reporter for Newsday.