Can you tell us about your work at the Victim Rights Law Center?
We are the first and biggest nonprofit law center in the country that is dedicated to addressing cases of rape and sexual assault and provides legal services to victims. We operate right here in Boston, Massachusetts and also in Portland, Oregon. We conduct national trainings for thousands of lawyers every year so that they are able to understand and meet the needs of sexual violence survivors. In addition to legal services, we work with clients holistically−whether they need help with immigration, negotiating with schools to change classes, or obtaining housing.
What were your academic interests before UMB and what made you decide to pursue this work?
I started off studying biochemistry during my undergraduate studies—go figure. I then switched my major to political science. My inspiration to pursue this work came during my internship through the Gender, Leadership and Public Policy graduate certificate program, which was then called the Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy. I had an internship at the Massachusetts Statehouse as the scheduler for Attorney General Scott Harshbarger. In this job, I was surrounded by amazing female role models. These women were the heads of divisions in the office and making things happen. They were the decision makers and affecting change. I knew that I wanted to be a decision maker and to do that, I needed a law degree like them, so that’s what I set out to do.
How did your responsibilities change when you were promoted to executive director of the center?
I began working with the center in 2004 as a volunteer attorney. In 2005, I joined the Board of Directors and in 2009 I became the executive director. The Victim Rights Law Center is dramatically different than it was a few years ago. We are training thousands of lawyers nation-wide; we secured grant programs to establish additional funds for our clients and work to provide transitional housing for victims. All of our services have grown. We also work extensively with the White House now−particularly Vice President Biden−on campus sexual assault. This issue has finally gained the attention of the nation. We have Vice President Biden standing up at the University of New Hampshire proclaiming “Rape is rape is rape!” and it has evolved into a bipartisan issue thankfully. We also have the Department of Education regularly inviting us to Washington, D.C. to advise them on policies for Title IX cases so they can know what works and what does not work for schools in the United States. It has been a wild ride.
What were some key junctures in your career path?
Like many law students, I was aiming to work with a firm after graduating from Boston University Law School. I actually grew up in public housing and on welfare with my mother. None of my family members had ever gone to college but I remember having this drive to keep going and to pursue higher education and I did not know what it was at the time. Going to college was certainly not expected of me. I taped pictures of universities next to my mirror as a young girl, applied, and was accepted. I turned down the first job I was offered at a law firm after graduating from law school and when I told them I had taken an internship working with a nonprofit, the lady on the phone laughed at me. That was when I knew I had made the right decision. I can connect the dots now and know that every experience I have had has led me to this position. I love working with survivors and could not imagine doing anything else.
What is the best part of your job?
Hope. Hope is the most important part of this job. I had experience working with victims during my undergraduate studies and I thought it was too hard and that I would never do it again. The truth is that it is hard but I have grown. The transformations I get to see are the most important part. I have clients write to me years after they have come to the center for help and tell me that they have families, stable jobs, are traveling, and are healthy and happy. I cannot describe the feeling I get [have?] knowing that I helped my clients get to where they are now. I cannot stop rape, but I can make lives better. That is why I’m here.