Graduate earns fellowship to prevent domestic violence

Elizabeth Tonti(October 6, 2011) Elizabeth Tonti, a May 2011 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, has earned a fellowship to provide legal services and advocacy to survivors of domestic violence.

Tonti is an AmeriCorps Attorney with Legal Aid of Arkansas, providing direct legal advocacy to domestic violence survivors and working on the organization's domestic violence initiatives. Her work will focus on developing a holistic, coordinated community response to domestic violence and more effectively meeting the needs of domestic violence survivors in Northeast Arkansas.

Tonti has long been committed to serving people in need and providing them access to services. During law school, she worked with a number of organizations advocating for women's rights and serving domestic violence survivors.

"My own experience of growing up in a violent home is initially what drew me to this work," Tonti said. "Learning about the dynamics of domestic violence helped me better understand it and made me aware of just how prevalent DV is in this country. It is truly an epidemic, and I will spend my entire life doing what I can to eradicate it."

Barriers such as poverty, immigration status, rural isolation, and lack of community resources, often compound violence and create additional impediments for those experiencing and trying to escape violence, she said, and she plans to use her fellowship to break down those obstacles.

Among her experience in advocacating for abuse survirors, Tonti volunteered with New Beginnings, responding to calls on the helpline and providing legal advocacy to pro se clients at the DV Family Law clinic and was a Rule 9 Clinic Student in the Ronald A. Peterson Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. Because of her work in the Clinic, Tonti was awarded the Clinical Legal Education Association's Outstanding Student Award.  In addition to providing support to domestic violence survivors, Tonti externed at Solid Ground in Seattle, providing support to the Public Benefits Family Assistance Program and advocating for low-income clients who had their state public assistance benefits terminated, reduced, or denied.

But Tonti's commitment to helping others started long before law school.  Before law school, Tonti taught English and basic math to women and underprivileged children in India.  She also worked on issues related to domestic violence as a public policy intern at National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C., and volunteered at Safe Passage Domestic Violence Shelter in Northampton, Mass, providing support to women and children trying to escape violence.

She is the third Seattle University School of Law graduate to work for Legal Aid of Arkansas.  Amy Pritchard '09 works as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid of Arkansas, and Kevin De Liban '11 recently began work as an AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with Legal Aid of Arkansas. 

"My commitment to this issue is what motivated me to go to law school, and I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to engage in the work that I am passionate about and to be of service to DV survivors in Arkansas, a particularly underserved state with some of the most dire poverty rates in the nation," Tonti said.

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