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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Pro Bono Attorney: Elena Zoniadis

July 05, 2016

Elena Zoniadis is a licensed attorney in New and New Jersey and began volunteering at NCVLI in the fall of 2015 and has provided hundreds of hours of pro bono work. Keep reading to learn more about Elena and how she got involved.

How did you get involved with victims’ rights?
I actually came to the legal profession through psychology. During college, I had the opportunity to study developmental psychopathology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. In my practicum work, I learned about the Scandinavian behavioral health model, which is preventative and holistic. I was inspired by this and decided to enter the legal profession to pursue a career in mental health advocacy. As I learned about intergenerational cycles of trauma, I became interested in victims’ rights. Justice for victims is one tool that, as a community, we can use to heal an individual victim, as well as to prevent cycles of trauma from repeating.

What victims’ rights issue do you work on with NCVLI?
NCVLI has given me the opportunity to work on a broad range of issues. Right now, I have been working on 50-state surveys of victims’ rights legislation. The educational material NCVLI produces is exceptional, and I am so honored to be a part of such an inspiring team of advocates.

Describe your partnership with NCVLI (how long, how learned, type of work, etc.).

I have been working with NCVLI since moving to Portland in October 2015. Some of my projects include preparing materials for our online legal library, as well as performing legal research in response to practitioner inquiries regarding victims’ rights legislation.

What is something that stands out about your experience on this case or legal issue?
I have become fascinated with trends in legislation and how advocacy can effectively impact a law’s application. During my time working with NCVLI, I have been able to see the direct results of our advocacy upon legislation and policy at both the state and federal level.  

What is one thing you learned from your experience on this case or legal issue?
In order for victims to receive justice, accessibility to legal information is essential. Moreover, for a victim to assert a violation of his or her rights, he or she must have standing. Victim standing is highly contested amongst the states. As a result, there are victims whose circumstances are not included in victims’ rights provisions. Thus, there is a tension between the rights guaranteed to victims, and how we see those rights in practice. We need to continue working at a grassroots level to educate communities, as well as continue our nationwide advocacy to create a more inclusive victims’ rights model. NCVLI has expanded what I see as possible for victims’ rights.  

What are your hobbies/what do you do for fun?
I have been working on an art installation.  NCVLI has a training that I would highly recommend called, “The Neurobiology of Trauma” by Dr. Christopher Wilson. Among other things, Dr. Wilson discusses how traumatic memories are encoded in the brain. I am coming to understand that our experiences in the world are influenced by both cultural, as well as personal, associations and archetypes. In my experience, trauma is not a stand-alone event.  It continues to affect how we experience the world. My art installation is comprised of different “canvases,” such as window frames or screens, which have been salvaged. I use repurposed items to create free association collages of my own unconscious. I’m sharing a picture of a small segment because the project is still in progress.  I want the final pieces to inspire others to explore their own intricate selfhood, to reclaim their memories and give them new names.  

What is one thing you hope to the future holds for victims and victims’ rights?
The end of shame. In my utopia, a victim would be able to process his or her experiences authentically and without judgment. I want victims and their communities to be empowered through their collective voices. That momentum can propel victims’ rights, which is very exciting.

What would you tell someone interested in doing legal work to support victims?
It is incredibly rewarding work, but demanding. So, this might be a good moment to talk about self-care.  Self-care is so important! I always try to make time to go hiking with my dogs and enjoy the outdoors so that I can greet my work refreshed. Once you decide that you want to pursue a particular path, you only need find your best attributes and put them to practice. Victims’ rights can take many forms, from legal advocacy to being a good friend. Not having a legal degree is not a barrier to discussing victims’ rights, educating yourself and others, and serving your community. And once you find your space, be good to yourself, and be awesome.