Alumna, IPVAC director fights against domestic violence, practices ‘a labor of love’

Published: April 11th, 2011

Category: Feature

Teresa Drake

Teresa Drake, director of UF Law's Intimate Violence Assistance Clinic, was one of five recipients of the Alachua-Bradford County Women of Distinction last month. (Photo by Vincent Massaro)

By Brandon Breslow
Student Writer

Every day, Teresa Drake (JD 94) wakes up to face the world for the victims of domestic violence.

As director of UF Law’s Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic (IPVAC), Drake is these victims’ lawyer, counselor, advocate and friend. For the law students who work with her on these cases, she is their teacher and role model.

“It is a labor of love,” Drake said. “I’m so passionate about the lives we touch.”

Her passion has not gone unnoticed.

In honor of Women’s History Month in March, Drake was named one of five recipients of the Alachua-Bradford County Women of Distinction award by Santa Fe College for her work in the field of domestic violence for more than 20 years.

“May you come to know her as so many in this community have and may you feel the depth of her legacy to the most vulnerable among us,” wrote Laura Knudson in her nomination letter for the award.

Knudson is trauma intervention and special services bureau chief at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

“I was the only one surprised to find out I was getting the award,” Drake said. “My family found out about it when (Knudson) called my friends and colleagues for nomination letters to go with the application.”

More than 100 other women have received the award since 1987. Drake was honored at a luncheon on March 1.

“It was a great platform to promote awareness of domestic violence in our community,” she said.

Drake has been working on community awareness and assistance in her field since she began volunteering for Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network while attending UF Law. She volunteered in an emergency shelter at night, helping battered women deal with the distress of leaving their abusers and the trauma inflicted by their relationships.

Drake was recently named Peaceful Path’s Community Advocate of the Year for 2010.

“I never ceased to be amazed at the strength I saw in victims,” Drake said.

Her volunteering led to an offer to work for the State Attorney’s Office in the 8th Judicial Circuit in 1996. During her 13 years as a prosecutor, she served as an assistant state attorney for child welfare legal services, the domestic violence unit and the county court.

For three years, she was division chief of the domestic violence unit where she prosecuted the largest, non-institutional felony child abuse case in the history of Florida, involving 25 children.

Drake also took on the added responsibility of training prosecutors and law students nationally on how to handle victims of domestic violence.

“It’s a special area and it needs to be treated as such,” Drake said.

She took her training and her passion to a new level in 2008, when she conceived an idea with UF Law Professor Nancy Dowd to create a civil clinic geared toward providing full legal services to victims of domestic violence.

“Whenever you’re dealing with victims in crisis,” Drake said, “they don’t just have one need. Domestic violence affects their kids, their housing and their finances.”

Following several months of grant writing with Dowd, director of the Center on Children & Families, the blueprints for the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic – the first of its kind in the nation – were laid out.

The clinic would utilize law students in helping domestic violence victims handle civil matters, such as injunctions for protection and dissolutions of marriage. Clients would also have access to a mental health counselor, a victim advocate and a clinical social worker.

In November 2009, word came in that the Department of Justice awarded them the grant necessary to make the clinic a reality. By January 2010, Drake had resigned from the State Attorney’s Office and was director of IPVAC.

Three active terms later, IPVAC has 22 students assisting clients with their most intimate legal and advocacy needs. They also go into the community and assist with screening for victims of domestic violence at emergency shelters and with the College of Medicine at Shands.

“Every term, I get this brand-new batch of law students and I get to watch them change tremendously and have their own breakthroughs,” Drake said.

Drake’s work with the State Attorney’s Office reaped one additional benefit. It was where she met her husband, Henry Stephen Pennypacker (JD 83). They married six years ago.

“We fell in love prosecuting child abuse,” Drake said. “We are both passionate about the protection of children and domestic violence victims.”

She has one daughter, Aaron, 22, who is a senior at Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

Drake also teaches yoga in Gainesville and cares for one dog, five cats and four chickens.

“The chickens are the only animals we have that earn their keep,” Drake said. “Every morning I wake up to free-range eggs.”

Drake also wakes up with weight of her work on her shoulders, but the heavy load has yet to discourage her from continuing her fight for her victims.

“It’s a ride like no other,” Drake said. “I thrive on it.”