Legal Aid Helps Women Experiencing Violence

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded

by Drs. Carolyn Hartley and Lynette M. Renner

Iowa Legal Aid helps clients who experience intimate partner violence (IPV). Iowa Legal Aid gives civil legal help in family law, including protective orders, divorce, and custody.

The second most-requested need of women who experience IPV is civil legal services. However, most researchon IPV has focused onthe criminal justice system. Due to the lack of research on civil legal services, Iowa Legal Aid worked with Drs. Carolyn Hartley (University of Iowa School of Social Work) and Lynette M. Renner (University of Minnesota School of Social Work). They studied the effect of civil legal services on women who experienced IPV. They looked at safety, economic self-sufficiency, and psychological well-being.

This study was funded by the National Institute of Justice.  They studied a sample of 85 women who experienced IPV and got help from Iowa Legal Aid. Women in the study got help with a civil protective order, divorce, custody, or child support case.  Most women were non-Hispanic and White. They averaged 32 years old, and had two or more children. Most were employed (52%). Most had earned a Bachelor’s degree or taken some college courses (76%). About 17% were residing in a rural community.  All women reported very high levels of psychological and physical IPV when they contacted Iowa Legal Aid. Some reported potentially lethal violence such as being choked or threatened with a weapon. 

Women were interviewed at three time points over 12 months. After one year, women reported:


  • A decrease in the severity of physical violence.
  • A significant decrease in emotional verbal abuse.
  • A significant decrease of violent and harassing stalking behaviors.

Economic Self-Sufficiency

  • A significant increase in total monthly income, an average of $318 per month.
  • A significant decrease in the use of program assistance (housing, utility, phone, food, subsidized day-care; other donations).
  • A significant decrease in difficulty of living off current income.
  • A significant increase in resources to meet their family’s needs.

Psychological Well-Being

  • A significant decrease in post-traumatic stress symptoms.
  • A significant decrease in depressive symptoms.
  • A significant increase in social support.
  • A significant increase of empowerment.

The study measured women’s perceptions of their relationship with their Legal Aid attorney. Most women reported a positive relationship with their attorney. The quality of the attorney-client relationship and women’s empowerment increased over time. 


The women who experienced IPV and received help from Iowa Legal Aid reported improvements in their safety, economic self-sufficiency, and psychological well-being over a one year period. These improvements were seen in women received help with a civil protective order or a family law case. The improvements occurred for both rural and urban women.

This study was one of the first to examine individual-level outcomes among women who experienced IPV and received civil legal services.  It provides important support for the effectiveness of civil legal services.

To read more about the study, go to

Dr. Carolyn Hartley is an Associate Professor at the University of Iowa School of Social Work. Dr. Lynette Renner is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work.

If you have experienced intimate partner violence, you can apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid.. 

  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Feb 23, 2017

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