Getting legal assistance for victims of domestic violence |

Getting legal assistance for victims of domestic violence

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer
Valerie Cooney, the directing attorney for Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans, says the organization will serve more than 1,000 clients this year.

For most women, the only way out of domestic abuse is to leave the abusive partner. Sometimes, it takes a trip to the hospital for motivation.

Simone Molloy was one of those women.

Molloy, 43, was married 16 years to a man who, she said, psychologically abused her throughout their marriage.

“A lot of people think abuse is physical only,” Molloy said. “My husband was one of them.

“He told me, ‘I never laid a hand on you.’ Then you go through years thinking you’re nuts, crazy – and your partner feeds on it.”

Psychologically beaten down, Molloy attempted suicide, and failed. But it was the turning point. There are things that deter a woman from leaving, like the partner promising to change and never abuse again, children, lack of money, and nowhere else to go.

Molloy is recently divorced but without her daughter, who is 15 years old. It pains Molloy to know her daughter does not want contact with her.

“She wants an apology from me,” Molloy said. “Because I left my husband, her father.”


The legal process was a long one for Molloy, who was referred by Advocates to End Domestic Violence to Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans. VARN offers free legal assistance in 12 rural counties in Nevada through the Domestic Violence Victim’s Assistance Project.

Handling Molloy’s case was Valerie J. Cooney, Esq., project counsel. Cooney is one of two attorneys handling domestic violence divorce cases. The other attorney is Suzanne Garcia.

Funds to pay for the attorneys come through local, state and federal grants, and fundraisers. The program was begun by Soroptimist International of Carson City and taken over by VARN in 2002.

“This year, we will have more than 1,000 requests for services,” Cooney said. “We are here because cases deal with contested custody of children. Of those, 75 percent deal with domestic violence.

“(Abusers) can pull such a snow job in court, they come across as the smoothest guys you’ve ever seen, except at home. They control the money. The women aren’t allowed to work, contact with family and friends is limited or cut off. Most of my clients couldn’t afford a lawyer if their life depended on it.

“Abuse is an enormous crisis. It’s not a pleasant problem.”

Cooney said Molloy is an exception to many domestic violence cases because she followed through with legal proceedings.

“I have more respect for these women (who leave a domestic situation),” Cooney said. “And they can do so many things with so little.”


While living at the shelter of Advocates to End Domestic Violence, Molloy attended counseling sessions. It helped her to talk with others in similar situations. They became each other’s support system.

“It’s nice to know you’re not alone,” Molloy said.

Molloy has since found a full-time job and is living on her own.

“It is a confidence builder,” Molloy said.

Cooley advises those contemplating leaving a domestic situation, to work out a safety plan to get away. Stash away money, clothing, have a place to go.

“And a restraining order may only escalate the situation, because you’re taking away control,” Cooney said. “We can get them into counseling and safe housing.

“To better serve these individuals, we need to coordinate community response – a team of professionals to help.”

Cooley said laws are fairly adequate to prosecute the abuser, but said more judges need training in understanding domestic violence.


“I was isolated from my family and friends,” Molloy said. “My husband was calling my parents in England behind my back and telling them I hated them.

“He would undermine everything I tried to do. I lost hope of doing anything for myself. He told me I was a useless waste of space.

“When I came to Valerie, she validated everything I was feeling. You need to surround yourself with people you can relate to, go to counseling, and don’t be embarrassed about telling others your problem. People are understanding.

“All situations are different,” Cooley said. “The survivor knows what the abuser is capable of, and we act on that.”


Molloy, to a point, feels safe today. She has been on her own since December and is feeling like her own person again. She awaits the day she can renew a relationship with her daughter.

“It will be nice,” she said. “I do hope it’s soon.”

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at or 881-1223.

WHO: Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans

WHAT: Domestic Violence Victim’s Assistance Project

WHERE: 904 N. Nevada St., Suite B


CALL: 883-8278