chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

After the Bar

Public Service

How New Lawyers Can Help Support Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence

Heather Leigh Krick


  • The ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence aims to increase access to justice for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
  • The Commission provides education, advocates for system reform, and supports marginalized communities. Taking a survivor-centered approach, it focuses on holistic, trauma-informed legal practices.
  • The Commission offers free educational opportunities and training on various topics, including trial skills and trauma-informed legal practice. Young lawyers can support the Commission by attending trainings, accessing resources, and engaging with the Commission through ABA membership.
How New Lawyers Can Help Support Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence

Jump to:

What does the ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence (the Commission) do? How can you support its mission to increase access to justice for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking by mobilizing the legal profession? Chief Counsel of the Commission Anya Lynn-Alesker has worked at the Commission for more than 14 years and recently discussed the Commission’s mission and work.

Commission Background and History

Established 29 years ago following the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the Commission provides expert, comprehensive education for the legal profession, information to the public to change social norms, and advocacy for system reform. Its focus is on serving the needs of marginalized or vulnerable communities.

For more than 25 years, the Commission has served as a US Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) national training and technical assistance (TTA) provider, primarily focusing on supporting attorneys and organizations providing civil representation to survivors. The scope of the Commission’s OVW TTA work has expanded over the past 14 years to include prosecutors, judges, law professors, domestic and sexual violence coalitions, and legal advocates. The Commission is committed to engaging in TTA and policy work grounded in the lived experiences of survivors and the legal professionals they work with. It partners with national, state, and local organizations to increase access to justice for survivors.

How Does It Carry Out Its Mission?

The Commission takes a holistic, survivor-centered, and trauma-informed approach to its work. Gender-based violence survivors are not a monolithic group, and their legal and nonlegal needs cross every area of law. Centering the humanity and agency of survivors is vital to the Commission and the ethical representation of survivors. The Commission is committed to actively centering and not erasing the experiences and narratives of survivors who have been historically or intentionally excluded from the legal system. 

The application of facts to law is vital, as is the storytelling and educating of the court that attorneys for survivors must incorporate due to the pervasiveness of victim-blaming and intersectional bias experienced by so many survivors. In fact, the Commission has started its Write & Tell Live series to support attorneys in telling survivor stories in ethical and powerful ways.


The Commission also takes its support of attorneys as people and professionals seriously. Vicarious or secondary trauma is a concern for professionals engaging as front-line responders to trauma, and the Commission provides TTA to individual attorneys and legal organizations on building trauma-informed legal practices and organizations. This is also a key component of the Commission’s law practice management portfolio, which supports the development of ethical, client-centered law offices.

Inclusion and Collaboration

The Commission is committed to “centering the margins.” The attorneys on staff are all subject matter experts who have represented survivors in legal practice. Even so, all new TTA content is developed via steering committees and consultation with legal professionals, gender-based violence experts, and advocates from a wide range of communities and locations, including those serving BIPOC survivors, LGBTQIA2S+ survivors, deaf survivors, immigrant survivors, survivors with disabilities, survivors of all ages, survivors in various geographic locations, and survivors living at multiple identity intersections. The Commission does not work in isolation. It is a peer in the larger networks of national, state, local, and even international organizations. It advocates working in the greater movement to end gender-based violence. 

What Skills Can You Learn Through the Commission?

The Commission provides a broad range of free educational opportunities, including trial skills, custody litigation best practices, holistic interviewing and legal representation, the fundamentals of domestic violence, trauma-informed legal practice and law office management, use and integration of interpreters, responding to aggressive opposing counsel, legal writing, LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion, oral advocacy for lawyers, and the importance of cultural humility and culturally responsive legal services. The Commission has companion tools and resources, such as those focused on case selection criteria, legal services agreements (or retainers), and virtual representation tip sheets.

Does the Commission Offer Training?

Staff experts create all of the Commission’s training and educational programs to increase the quality of legal representation for victims of domestic and sexual violence, including human trafficking, by helping attorneys to understand some of the distinctive factors and experiences influencing survivors as clients. It introduces attorneys to some of the unique skills necessary for ethical and effective representation, specifically litigation of cases involving domestic and sexual violence victims.

The Commission uses an interactive model of training that acknowledges and accommodates a variety of learning styles in adults. Recognizing that not everyone learns best from a lecture format, the highly trained staff develop detailed curricula for every educational program and training that contain a variety of learning activities, including mini-lectures, small group activities, large group activities, individual activities, and group discussions. Training courses are typically multiday intensive and interactive.

Trainings cover a large range of topics, including trial advocacy, custody and family law matters, offender accountable language and aggressive opposing counsel, the intersections of gun violence and domestic violence, and the use and integration of expert witnesses. Training helps attorneys consider not only the courts but also the other systems that survivor-clients interact with and how to prepare clients for those experiences.

How Can You Support Victims of Domestic and Sexual Abuse?

There are limitless ways for young attorneys to be involved in this work, and any participation is of deep value. Some prefer to work with survivors directly and can while maintaining their personal well-being. Others prefer policy or educational work, such as providing financial assistance to organizations that provide TTA. Direct services work is also essential. The Commission connects you to legal service providers who directly represent survivors. Commission trainings are announced on their website and their listservs. You can find them on social media and repost their content to help broaden their reach: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How Can You Engage the Commission’s Work in Your Practice?

  • Attend the Commission’s free training and online events and access its resources.
  • Join a listserv to connect to a larger community.
  • Engage the Commission through your ABA membership. Commission members are presidential appointments, and its roster of liaisons is expanding.
  • Connect with Anya about your ideas and invite the Commission to work with your state and local bar associations.
  • The Commission can provide TTA to your organization and pro bono team or teach sessions at your law school to give students a foundation of trauma-informed practice.
  • Contact the Commission about integrating trauma-informed and culturally inclusive practices into your work.