We’ve seen it repeatedly throughout our history: When people’s rights are threatened, it’s the lawyers who step up to the plate. Some are true Freedom Fighters, and they deserve special recognition. That’s why each month, we will feature lawyers who are really making a difference.
Today, we are proud to feature Andrew Sta. Ana.
Andrew Sta. Ana is the Director of Legal Services for Day One, an organization that partners with youth to end dating abuse and domestic violence through education, supportive services, legal assistance, and leadership development. Through advocacy and direct representation in cases concerning family law, immigration, and criminal justice, Andrew works to protect the rights of young survivors. At Day One, Andrew provides trainings on dating violence, the rights of young people within the legal system, and the use of technology regarding intimate partner violence (violence by a person against their spouse or partner.)
Throughout his career, Andrew has also advocated for the rights of low wage workers, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, transgender people of color, immigrants, and survivors of intimate partner violence. For his work, he has won several awards—for instance, in 2011, he was awarded a Courage award from the NYC City Anti-Violence project for his work to set up and administer a free legal clinic for LGBTQ survivors of intimate partner violence.
Here’s the interview:
What inspired you to become a lawyer in the first place?
As I grew up and came to understand myself, my community, and my world more, I learned that the law is a fundamental tool used towards justice. As the child of immigrants, a person of color, and a queer person, I also learned and observed that the law has been used both in favor of and against many communities to which I belong. For instance, as I learned historical events that included the Chinese Exclusion Act and Loving v. Virginia to Stonewall and the movement against domestic violence, I made connections between those communities and the root causes of violence and inequality. I saw the role of the law to shape what is possible.
What is your most memorable case?
While there have been plenty of memorable cases, I’ve think I’ve been most profoundly impacted by the first case that I lost and the first case that I’ve won. However, as lawyers, in the course of establishing a trusting and confidential relationship with clients, we learn a tremendous amount about their lives. For survivors of intimate partner violence, I have learned directly from survivors about what it means to be in a relationship with an abusive person and how violence becomes an increasingly terrifying part their lives. It is an extraordinary responsibility, and each case I litigate is a test of whether the law will be able to protect that individual. So in that sense, each case is memorable.
You fight on behalf of young survivors of intimate partner violence. Why is it so important that these people in particular have an outlet and a voice?
For young people in intimate relationships, there’s often a misconception that their relationships are insignificant or unserious. However, for many young people, their first intimate relationships can be the most important bonds in their life and can help shape their future relationships. For most young people, their first relationships are part of their journey to discover parts of themselves that are distinct from their family and community. For those experiencing violence in such relationships, it adds additional, sometimes terrifying layers. They might experience shame, fear, and confusion while still caring about their partner, so it’s essential that they have an outlet. Not a lot of young people expect to have such options and to be taken seriously.
What challenges do you face today that you never encountered before?
I didn’t get my first cell phone until the end of college. Even then, texting was not a common practice, I had a fairly limited minutes on my plan, and there was certainly no apps or internet access. Today, communication via technology and social media is highly-integrated for nearly everyone. For victims of intimate partner violence and for young people in particular, social media and technology present a double-edged sword. On the one hand, technology can be used as a tool to manipulate a survivor through messages and tracking. On the other, technology can be used as a tool to find safety, community, and support. For lawyers representing survivors of technology abuse, it becomes a balancing act of working with a survivor on how they navigate online spaces, what to reveal about themselves, what are the risks of posting about your life and experiences online, and how to take precautions.
If you could give one piece of advice to other lawyers across the country, what would you say?
The law is not only an important and critical instrument for social justice, but it is also most effective alongside other forms of activism, organizing, relationship building and visioning of a better world. In my work, the legal victories we gain for our clients are pieces of a larger movement that works toward a deeper shift in our personal relationships, communities, and our collective values.
If an attorney wants to get involved in social justice, how can they get started?
Fortunately, social justice movements have plenty of access points for lawyers. From volunteering, taking pro bono cases, donating, or even joining a board, there are significant resources and skills that lawyers can provide. For some, getting involved in social justice may mean finding opportunities to apply your professional skills to a cause. For others, it can be as simple as joining a planning committee for an event or helping recruit other volunteers.