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Shared by Valentina

This is my story. I was once a law student attending a top law school. Though I took two years off from my legal studies to care for my newborn and an older child, I felt it was time to resume my education and work towards realizing my dream of becoming an attorney. I re-enrolled as a full-time student in the JD program. 

But then things took a turn for the worse.  I soon realized that I could not pay for my law school education because my abusive husband (now ex-husband) had ruined my credit unbeknownst to me. Specifically, he incurred debts in my name and refused to pay them back though he had a job and income to make payments. Given my bad credit, I was unable to qualify for financial aid or student loans to afford my law school tuition. I was forced to drop out of law school, which was painful and heartbreaking. Law is my passion and I always hoped to become a licensed attorney one day. 

But I refused to give up. In time, I was no longer trapped in the abusive marriage and I moved into an apartment with my two children. I applied to take the California Bar Exam as a foreign attorney (because I am Canadian), meeting the minimum requirements. This meant I could sit for the California Bar Exam, which is one step closer to realizing my dream. I cried happy tears and felt grateful for the opportunity. 

However, I hit another road block. I did not pass the bar exam on the first try (by only a few points), but I was not defeated. I felt eager to re-take the test and nail it on the second attempt. But then I got word from my ex-husband that he was going to drastically reduce support payments to me and the children. This left me in the position of applying for public assistance to make ends meet. It also meant I could no longer afford to pay for the bar exam fee, which is very costly. 

Currently, my children and I live on government aid. It is difficult to subsist on the little income we get. Further, I am caught in a vicious cycle of relying on welfare rather than realizing my potential as a lawyer and becoming a self-sufficient woman and mother because I cannot afford to re-take the California bar exam.

It is my strong belief that the negative turn of events in my life is a direct result of being victimized by my spouse. As a survivor of domestic violence, I endured physical, mental and financial abuse during the marriage. At times, the children witnessed the abuse and were caught in the crossfire.  We did not deserve this. To give you an example of what life was like during the abusive marriage, one Christmas, my husband punched me in the face and on my shoulder in front of the children, who were 2 and 5 years old at the time. He totally exploded and was yelling at me. The children were scared and crying. I was frozen. I could not cry or move. I said nothing. It was as if I was inside a horror movie. I could not believe this was happening to me and to the children.   

My husband proceeded to throw and break furniture around the house. He also broke our Christmas tree. I thought about calling 911, but I was too afraid. I felt hopeless. After a while, my husband said he was going to bed and I waited until he fell asleep to reach out to a family member for help.  I was still in shock when I fled my home that day and arrived with the children to my family member's house for a reprieve from the abuse. I could not think clearly- I forgot my wallet, ID, diapers and extra clothes for the children- but at least I was in a safe place. 

My husband eventually located us. He apologized and repeatedly asked us to come back home. He said he had made a mistake, but he denied ever punching me, thereby distorting the facts. Yet I decided to return home with him after a few days. This is because I was a full-time mother and did not have any income of my own. I was financially dependent on my husband and felt trapped. I did not see a way out of the abusive situation. I now know that many women, like me, experience financial abuse and manipulation. This poses a barrier to ending an abusive relationship. 

Though I am no longer with my abuser today, I am struggling to move forward and achieve economic self-sufficiency.  My hope is to re-take the California bar exam and realize my dream of becoming a successful attorney. I do not plan to give up.  However, I yet do not have the financial means to re-take the bar exam.

It is with gratitude that I share my story with SOAR for Justice. I hope my voice will give other survivors a strong voice for change.

Valentina is the 2017 SOAR for Justice Bar Exam Award Recipient