Woman to Watch: Lauren Deutsch

Woman to watch: Lauren Deutsch

Arlene Hisiger  Herrochester.com,February 28, 2014

(Photo: Photo provided by Lauren Deutsch )

"I guess I don't like bullies," Lauren Deutsch said, explaining her decision to work as a Legal Aid Society of Rochester staff lawyer specializing in domestic violence cases.

She noted that a majority of cases she works on are characterized by a pronounced power imbalance. Often, the man has the upper hand, both monetarily and in terms of better education, social competence, and English fluency.

"I love to be that person that tells the victim: 'Hey, I can help you – I can help make the situation better.' I particularly like working on child support issues. I can't take away the trauma, but at least I can get a victim some money – something concrete. That gives me a measure of satisfaction."

In one particular case, a woman who had been abused for years and believed her abuser's assertion that he "owned' the courts, the police, and, in fact, the entire system, was astounded to see her smartly-dressed, smooth-talking abuser unmasked in court, thanks to a phone conversation she had recorded, per Deutsch's suggestion. "That's what I like about my work," Deutsch said, "I get to redistribute power."

The Berkeley, Calif., native has a long history of identifying with those less fortunate than her. At 16, she volunteered, through the non-profit organization Amigos de las America, to go to Brazil to build indoor bathrooms for the local population.

She ended up in Barro Duro, a rural village in northeast Brazil. It was a unique experience not only because the village was entirely run by women (the village men were only able to find employment on ranches in central or southern Brazil) but because it also was the first time she was in a place where having enough food to eat was an issue.

This made her hosts' initial attempt to make her feel at home particularly poignant. They served her overcooked pasta – pasta is not a dietary staple in Brazil, which they doused in ketchup! Deutsch was, of course, grateful for their efforts, but was relieved to eventually dine as the locals did, on rice and beans. "The thing that stayed with me was the generosity and kindness of the people," she said.

In 1999, while attending college in Israel, she again felt compelled to help those in need; this time it was the survivors of a devastating earthquake in Turkey. Armed only with Israeli cookies and candy, she was dispatched, through the auspices of the Red Crescent, to the Adapizare refugee camp.

In addition to dispensing snacks she and other volunteers put on programs for the kids, to keep them distracted from the death and destruction surrounding them. "The people were so grateful that someone cared about them, they would come by and touch our faces and hands – to make some connection with us. The fact that we were there meant more to them than what we could actually do," Deutsch said.

Today, Deutsch gives of her time and expertise to Beth Shalom Congregation. Her volunteer work there has impacted all ages, from the younger members of its junior congregation, to adults who have been enriched by a panel discussion on domestic violence that she organized and facilitated.

Despite deriving great satisfaction from her work, Deutsch is aware that much more needs to be done. "There are still holes in the system. The entire legal system is designed around self-reporting, and this can be an obstacle for non-English speakers, children, and mentally or physically disabled people."

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