“She failed to legal legal, which is legally legal, per legal.” That’s how a rapid-fire exchange between a magistrate and lawyer sounds to Alex, the protagonist in Netflix’s hit series Maid.
In this particular episode, Alex appears at a custody hearing wearing clothes borrowed from the woman staying one floor above her at a domestic violence shelter. As she walks into the courtroom, Alex learns that her abusive partner has a lawyer; she does not. In a few brief moments of screen time, Maid shows how quickly and utterly survivors can be alienated in legal systems that have tremendous power over their lives. Over ten episodes, the series goes on to show how legal needs intersect with other basic needs – from housing and food to work and childcare – and psychological stress.
The series brought to the screen so much of what my psychology research team has learned from survivors of interpersonal traumas, such as sexual assault and intimate partner abuse, as well as victim service providers over the years: Unmet legal needs interact with psychological coping and healing.
Unmet Legal Needs After Interpersonal Traumas
Those lessons became especially clear in a collaboration with a Colorado-based organization, Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. Our collaboration began years ago with an assessment designed to better understand the legal needs of crime victims in and around Denver as well as barriers to getting those needs met. The needs assessment quickly revealed that survivors faced a host of legal needs and barriers that were tangled up with social, economic, and health difficulties. For example, survivors described legal needs related to:
- Information about legal issues, such as needing to learn the difference between civil and criminal legal issues
- Criminal issues, such as enforcement of their rights as victims