Alumnus/Alumna of the Month

Mary Haviland '94


Read an Interview with Mary Haviland.

For twenty five years, Mary Haviland has been an advocate for battered women in the court system and the public policy arena. After starting her career as a paralegal advocate with Brooklyn Legal Services, acting on behalf of battered women in divorce and Family Court proceedings, Haviland joined the Park Slope Safe Homes Project in 1980. As director of Safe Homes, a community-based organization for battered women and their children, she managed all operations, including counseling, shelter, support groups, and a crisis hotline. From 1985-1987, while pursuing a Master’s Degree from Columbia University in political science and public policy, Haviland continued to work with Safe Homes as an advocacy coordinator, focusing on domestic violence public policy issues.

Haviland founded the Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform for Battered Women in 1987, the first group in New York City to advocate for and implement criminal justice reforms specifically designed for domestic violence survivors. In 1990, Haviland left the Coalition to pursue a law degree; she joined the Family Violence Project in 1994 after graduating from New York University School of Law. In 2002, a spin-off of the Urban Justice Center formed an independent not-for-profit organization called CONNECT, where Haviland currently serves as Co-executive Director. At CONNECT she draws on her extensive expertise to design and implement education and direct-service programs aimed at improving the response of the criminal justice system to domestic violence.

Haviland is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious Root, Tilden, Snow Fellowship from New York University and the Charles Revson Fellowship on the Future of New York from Columbia University. She received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women in 1989. Haviland is co-chair of the Criminal Justice Committee of the NYC Interagency Task Force Against Domestic Violence and the author of numerous publications about domestic violence and criminal justice, including The Family Protection and Domestic Violence Intervention Act of 1995: Examining the Effects of Mandatory Arrest in New York City, May 2001.



Interview with Alumnus/Alumna of the Month

Mary Haviland ’94

What is your area of specialization and how did you come to practice in this area?
Before I entered law school in 1990, I worked for many years directly with women who were abused by their intimate partner. I went to law school in order to develop skills that would help me develop legislation, policy and programs that would lead to a reduction of this type of violence. Therefore, I would have to say that my specialization is domestic violence and I have learned the areas of law needed to effectively fight violence in the home against women and children. Initially, that entailed acquiring knowledge of criminal, family and matrimonial law so that I could create legal programs that would effectively assist victims with access to legal remedies that could provide safety. When we founded CONNECT, the organization I currently co-direct, knowledge of not-for-profit and contract law became necessary.

Describe recent legal developments in your area; where do you see this field of practice in 5 years?
The legal changes related to domestic violence that have been made over the last decade have been significant. First, the passage of a mandatory arrest provision in domestic violence crimes in 1995 in New York State brought about considerable changes in the response of the criminal justice system to domestic violence. Consequently, domestic violence is now widely treated as a crime that results in an arrest. This has brought about improvements in the prosecution of domestic violence cases and access to viable criminal remedies for the abuse. Abusers are more often sentenced to jail, probation or oversight programs that include mandated group treatment. Secondly, New York’s provision requiring a victim to choose between Family Court or Criminal Court within 72 hours of an act of violence has been eliminated to allow proceeding in both courts if she wishes. Thirdly, the options available in Family Court have been improved so that orders of protection are readily available within 24 hours and special provisions assist judges to respond to more serious violence. These changes have helped to stop violence at an earlier stage, facilitated many women and children to remain in their homes safely without resorting to emergency shelter and cumulatively, these changes may have led to a decrease in the number of victims of domestic violence killed in New York City. (There were 20% fewer deaths from intimate spouse violence in 2003 than in 2002— the first time this number has decreased since these numbers have been tracked. Mayor’s State of the City address, January, 2004)

However, these legal changes have generated some challenges for battered women. For example, mandatory arrest has led to increased numbers of victims who are forced unwillingly into the criminal court system following an arrest. After being assaulted, battered women are immediately facing questions about whether to proceed in Family Court as well as Criminal Court in order to protect themselves. Being thrust into the criminal justice system can mean that victims are forced to negotiate with other legal systems such as the Administration for Children’s Services, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Offices of Probation and Parole. Also, there is some evidence that the mandatory arrest provisions are interpreted differently depending on the community in which the victim lives, so that arrests are made more frequently in some communities and less so in others. Furthermore, as perpetrators have grown more savvy about laws meant to protect victims, an important subset has learned to intimidate and harass their victims through threatened or executed arrests on false or exaggerate claims.

The challenge over the next five years will be to assess these changes for their real effect on victims of domestic violence and their children and their ability to reduce or even stop violence in the home. This will mean evaluating these changes scientifically as well as listening to the experience of survivors with these new remedies. Lastly, it will involve maintaining an openness that will allow those who work in the field and participated in generating these reforms to scrapping that which does not work and retaining that which does.

Describe a case or matter that you worked on that you found particularly challenging or rewarding.
I began working with battered women as a paralegal in a Legal Services office in the late seventies. My clients were poor, terribly mistreated women and their children. I was one of the first people in New York City to accompany these women to court as an advocate. My presence in Family Court and Criminal Court was a mystery to everyone. I heard over and over that the case was just a family dispute and would go nowhere. (The law requiring all family disputes to be heard in Family Court except first degree felonies and homicides had just been changed in 1977 to allow elective jurisdiction in Family Court or Criminal Court.) Yet I knew from my contact with these women, that the court’s inaction on these cases was very wrong. I had significant and long-term contact with some of my clients which allowed me to understand their situations very well. Their stories left permanent impressions on me. For example, I worked for months with one woman from East New York who was forced to leave her home because of her husband’s brutal violence. I coordinated an escape to an emergency shelter for her and her five children, one of whom was in a wheel chair, while her husband was working as a painter a few blocks away. I will never forget the enormous effort it took to get her out, the look of terror on the kids’ faces as we left the home where they had grown up and this woman’s extreme gratitude months later when she took me to a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant deep in Brooklyn. These early experiences with women and their children have informed my career over the last 25 years.

I have worked at the Family Violence Project of the Urban Justice Center since law school, building a program that tests multicultural, innovative approaches to decreasing violence in the home. Our program was one of the first in the nation to examine the intersection between child abuse and domestic violence. One of my main interests has been to create criminal justice programs that lead to city-wide improvement of law enforcement and of the prosecution of domestic crimes. My interest and expertise in mandatory arrest and developing community-based programs resulted in an award from St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Crime Victim’s Treatment Center in 2003 for my work in this area. In addition, the Family Violence Project pursued remedies to the economic dilemmas faced by women and their children when they are faced with leaving the home. In the last three years, we brought all of these issues together and blended several methodologies (community organizing, capacity building and community development) to bring about culturally sensitive, coordinated responses to domestic violence in high-need neighborhoods in New York City. These were so successful that the Family Violence Project at the Urban Justice Center grew from a staff of eight in 2001 to one of 23 in 2003. In 2002, we initiated an amicable spin-off from the Urban Justice Center to create an independent not-for-profit organization called CONNECT. As Co-Executive Director of this organization I have worked to put structures in place that can responsibly respond to the demands of a program of this size and oversee the legal needs of this new not-for-profit endeavor.

The last area of work that has brought many challenges and rewards has been my position as Co-Chair of a city-wide Domestic Violence Criminal Justice Committee comprised of high-level representatives from the District Attorney’s Offices in New York City, the NYPD, the Department of Probation, the Division of Parole and several domestic violence organizations. The committee has had a significant impact on the way in which the criminal justice system treats victims of domestic violence. We have developed a method of evaluating certain policy decisions by taking a “snap shot” look at domestic violence cases coming into the District Attorney’s Offices. The information gleaned from these cases is then shared with the police department so that certain advances can be achieved. We have used this to greatly improve the evidence collection in domestic violence cases and address issues related to dual arrests under mandatory arrest (the arrest of both parties in the household following an incident of violence). In addition, we were the first to raise domestic violence issues in the parole setting which resulted in the creation of its first agency-wide policy on domestic violence. We just completed a highly regarded training at the NYPD for police executives who were promoted to the captain level. The training focused on preparing the new Captains to respond to domestic violence perpetrated by police officers and by other employees of the NYPD.

What is the most prevalent issue you face when fighting domestic violence?
Many people fail to understand the complexity of domestic violence. This type of violence is inextricably connected to many important issues in both the victim and the perpetrator’s life. It is connected to their concept of self, their ideas about relationships, their ideas about parenting, their class, their ideas about gender roles, their culture, their relationship to their friends and extended family, their relationship to the community. The list goes on and on. People tend to underestimate the power of an abusive relationship, view it as a clear cut thing; you get out or you want to be there. The result is victim blaming and at the same time empowering the abuser.

Do you find that conflict may arise as you attempt to help people involved in domestic violence who may not be receptive to assistance?
Leaving or changing an abusive relationship is a process. People often comment on how hard it is to leave a long-term relationship. Once they are out, many express surprise at how long it took them to get out. Handling an abusive relationship is even more of a challenge. First, the violence itself has many effects which prevent independent actions and clear thinking on the part of the victim. In addition, many survivors of abuse express the feeling that they wanted to remain in the relationship, but desperately wanted the abuse to stop. Much of the assistance we offer victims is centered on the option of leaving. Perhaps we are somewhat to blame for not developing more options for dealing with the abuse. Understanding this and what we are asking women to give up helps me deal with those who cannot act immediately. Conflict arises if I believe she is putting herself or her children in danger. Then I will search for options that are acceptable to her and that provide a measure of safety. My hope for the future in domestic violence is to broaden the approaches so that changing abusive behavior is less burdensome to the victim. Fortunately, more thinking has begun about preventing domestic violence, creating community environments that do not tolerate violence in the family and exploring different methods of motivating individual behavioral change on the part of perpetrators. I am hoping that these efforts will come together with the more crisis-based interventions to actually reduce levels of family violence.

What drives you to be such a strong advocate against domestic violence?
I have seen first hand the terrible damage that violence in the home brings to bear on its victims. omestic violence is a euphemism for hitting, slapping, punching, raping, verbally denigrating, killing a loved pet, controlling another’s every waking moment, sometimes very serious violence (in one client’s case, she was stabbed 29 times, only surviving because she was wearing a leather coat), depriving the family of funds, destroying cherished possessions and sometimes much more. When it is done in front of the children, its deleterious effects are multiplied. It is no exaggeration to say that this type of violence wrecks lives and sets the conditions for violence in the next generation.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
There are many aspects of my work that are rewarding. There is almost nothing more satisfying that seeing a woman you are working with transform from a frightened and down-trodden person to one who is rediscovering her strengths and inherent worth. It is a wonderful thing to feel partially responsible for.

Who are your role models in the legal profession?
My role models have been: Brooklyn Law School Professor Elizabeth Schneider with whom I studied at Law School and with whom I continue a working relationship; ADA Audrey Moore, DANY, Deputy Bureau Chief and A.D.A.Wanda Lucibello, King’s County D.A. Office, Bureau Chief, two of the most committed and thoughtful ADA’s I know; NYU Law School Professor Holly Maguigan for supporting my work and challenging my thinking; and the Honorable Marjory Fields for getting me started on my legal career.

What was your first job out of law school?
Upon graduating from Law School , I joined the Family Violence Project of the Urban Justice Center , the predecessor of the organization I currently co-direct. The Family Violence Project consisted of three staff members with lots of big ideas. We officially spun off from the Urban Justice Center in 2003 to form CONNECT, Inc. and now have a staff of 23.

How do you balance work and life?
I have two kids, Jonah, age 18 and Nathaniel, age 8. The kids are great; they prevent me from over working and help me to be a more balanced person. I love having a family and also love my work. But balancing both of them would be much more difficult without my husband who believes in my career and me enough to do his equal share of child care, laundry, and dish washing.

If you could chose another profession to be in, what would it be?
Five years into doing this work, I toyed with working in something much more concrete such as being a car mechanic or mechanical engineer, but I think I was just searching for something more straight forward where there was a clearer causal connection between work and effect. If I had to choose another profession, it would be focused on the environment. I feel that our lifestyle fundamentally disrespects the earth and that environmental issues will be of great importance over the next 50 years.

What advice would you give to current students?
Pick something you would like to change and keep at it. Appreciate the expertise of others. Lawyering is important, but it has severe limitations and there are merits to other approaches. Also, if you want to do public interest work, learning to raise money and to direct programs will give you much more flexibility in your work.