This Tool Uses AI To Help People File Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

"For many of our users, the choice is between doing this themselves or not doing it at all."

Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used by Google to analyze your genome for free, and now the groundbreaking technology is being used by a new tool in order to assist people in filing restraining orders related to incidents of domestic violence.

Said tool is called HelpSelf Legal, a service that uses AI to assist individuals in preparing filings for common legal tasks, such as restraining order paperwork. Per Mashable, the helpful tool was created by a lawyer named Dorna Moini, who has represented many domestic violence survivors on a pro-bono basis and saw a way to make the at times painful and difficult process more efficient.

In discussing her decision to create HelpSelf Legal, Moini noted that many low-income Americans' legal needs go unmet.

"Working pro bono with people who can't afford a lawyer made me realize that technology could help bring us closer to closing that justice gap, making the legal system accessible to more citizens," Moini told A Plus. "For several years, I gave pro bono representation to domestic violence victims, asylum applicants, and low-income individuals being evicted from their homes."

But Moini had a full-time job, and her time was limited.

"I thought, 'If I can create technology to streamline part of the process, it would empower people to prepare their own paperwork,'" she told A Plus. "Then, I could spend my time on the legal tasks that technology can't replace, such as advocating for clients at a hearing. That's why I started HelpSelf.  My hope is that it will reallocate the legal aid resources to where they are needed most."


According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. The organization also found that on a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide, but there are not enough lawyers available to help those who have bravely come forward and decided to take legal action.

With HelpSelf Legal, you can take control of the process yourself, arguably making it easier to seek assistance when needed. The AI used for HelpSelf Legal is familiar with restraining orders, so it uses previously collected data from the forms to guide the user through filling out his or her own paperwork. For example, since the AI knows what questions must be answered (and how) to properly process the paperwork, HelpSelf Legal will ensure all the pertinent information is present before it can be submitted.

The launch went better than Moini could have expected.

"In our first week, we have had users all across California, which indicates that we're accomplishing our goal of serving rural areas as well as big cities," she told A Plus. "Users have told us how helpful it is not to have to take time off work, get childcare, and go stand in line for hours at the court to understand their remedies.  We also have dozens of legal aid organizations who are using our product within their organizations and their legal aid clinics in California, and organizations across the U.S. are interested in partnering with us to expand into their states."

A promotional image on the site.

Currently, the site is only available to those filing domestic violence claims in the state of California, but Moini hopes to eventually expand to all states and counties and add additional documents pertaining to civil harassment, eviction, child support, and more.

However, while HelpSelf Legal was intended to make filing domestic abuse paperwork easier and more efficient, there are those who work with domestic violence survivors who have legitimate concerns about this resource. "I love the idea of using AI as a tool to help survivors, because usually new technology is used as a tool to abuse survivors, but having that so automated does raise some red flags for me," Adam Dodge, legal director of Laura's House, a domestic violence agency and shelter in California told Mashable.

Among Dodge's concerns? That HelpSelf Legal doesn't present every course of action for users, nor does it provide the emotional support you'd typically get from a lawyer or shelter.

For her part, Moini plans to rectify that by licensing the platform to legal aid organizations and women's shelters so they can use with their own clients, and also sell it directly to individuals for $15 per use. So while it may not be perfect, HelpSelf Legal is giving people access to key information they previously had no clue about because of a lack of resources.

"For many of our users, the choice is between doing this themselves or not doing it at all," Moini told A Plus.  "We're not necessarily trying to replace lawyers —  we're trying to empower those who don't have access to lawyers to fill out the paperwork themselves (whether because of affordability, limited resources, or geography)."

Cover image via Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.


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