WBA Issue Statement on Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, nationally, almost 25% of women and 10% of men have suffered sexual violence by an intimate partner and more than 22% of women and 14% of men have been subjected to at least one act of severe physical violence in an intimate relationship.2

The availability of legal services for victims of domestic violence is the single highest predictor of long-term reduction in domestic violence3. Consequently, any organization that employs attorneys should prioritize policies that allow employees to participate in pro bono services, including representation of victims of domestic violence. 

Attorneys, and especially members of the WBA, should adopt the goals enunciated by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence4 in an effort to reduce the incidence of domestic violence and improve the outcomes for survivors and victims of domestic violence. These goals are to: (1) improve the quality of legal representation of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking; (2) enable lawyers to effectively, ethically, and holistically represent victims in civil protection order cases; and (3) raise awareness about the need for high-quality representation for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in civil protection order cases.

For many years the Women’s Bar Association Foundation (WBAF), the charitable arm of the WBA, has awarded grants to organizations that provide services for victims of domestic violence. Independently and in collaboration with the WBAF, the WBA will continue to seek opportunities to address and improve the rights of victims of domestic violence.

1 Office on Violence Against Women: Areas of Focus, U.S. Department of Justice (April 11, 2018), www.justice.gov/ovw/domestic-violence.
2 Matthew J. Breiding, Sharon G. Smith, Kathleen C. Basile, Mikel L. Walters, Jieru Chen & Melissa T. Merrick, Prevalence & Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, & Intimate Partner Violence Victimization – National Intimate Partner & Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011, Centers. for Disease Control Prevention (Sept. 5, 2014), www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm.
3 Sarah M. Buel, Effective Assistance of Counsel for Battered Women Defendants: A Normative Construct, 26 Harv. Women’s L.J. 217 (2003), www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlg/vol26/buel.pdf.
4 Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault & Stalking in Civil Protection Order Cases, American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence, www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/standards-of-practice.html