UCI clinical professor of law Jane Stoever has dedicated her career to fighting domestic and family violence. Since joining the UCI School of Law in 2013, she has expanded its domestic violence clinic far beyond its initial remit of restraining orders and now supervises 16 student attorneys a year as they represent survivors in civil, criminal, immigration and policy interventions.
Stoever was named one of the 125 most influential people in Orange County during 2022 by the Orange County Register for her work as co-chair of the county’s Domestic Violence Death Review Team. And she has rallied together the vast and diverse resources of UCI to create the Initiative to End Family Violence. Established in 2013, the interdisciplinary initiative includes faculty partners from 11 schools – from law to medicine to arts – and 21 departments committed to tackling what Stoever calls the “startlingly high prevalence of abuse.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in 10 men experience sexual violence, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. That abuse often takes place behind closed doors, but it does not exist in isolation. Its complex contributing factors and stark societal ramifications cross over generations as well as the health, legal and economic realms.
“The UCI Initiative to End Family Violence unites an unprecedented range of faculty and community partners determined to prevent, intervene in and remedy the problems of gender-based violence and family violence across the lifespan,” Stoever says. “Through our collaborative research, education and clinical responses to abuse, we strive to be a global resource for creating a world in which people of all ages are safe in their families and relationships.”
What drew you to domestic violence law and to teaching it at UCI?
My father is a lawyer and had a community-based practice in Kansas City, Missouri, covering a wide swath of law, including defending peace protesters in the 1980s. My parents had a deep focus on peace and justice and raised us in that tradition. We were really involved in a couple of homeless shelters. I was a live-in staff member at a shelter for homeless families before going to law school. I saw the challenges that people faced with the law and the difference that advocacy could make for them.
When I went to Harvard Law School, I thought I would be a legal aid attorney and do work similar to what my father did. I spent two years as a student attorney in the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. I quickly came to understand that the common issue underlying the housing, benefits and family law issues my clients had was domestic violence. I started focusing specifically on domestic violence – its incredible prevalence and complexity and how it was an entrée into so many of the legal challenges and barriers that people faced in achieving freedom from violence.
I started teaching in domestic violence clinics in 2004, at Georgetown, and subsequently served as director of the domestic violence clinics at American University and Seattle University. At UCI, I saw an opportunity to be able to build and have a vision at a school where experiential learning is such a core value and to work alongside faculty who are committed to rethinking legal education with a public-interest focus. UCI’s law school is very much a part of this larger research institution, and interdisciplinary collaborations come so naturally when you share space and have these opportunities to come together. That’s really the story of the Initiative to End Family Violence; so much of our work is this very determined interdisciplinary approach.
In addition to its interdisciplinary approach, what distinguishes the Initiative to End Family Violence?
We research violence across the lifespan. So many of the movements and clinical responses and so much of the research into abuse have developed in silos. There are separate responses and specialties for child abuse, teen dating violence, adult intimate partner violence, sexual harassment and elder abuse. When you break down the silos and look across the research as a whole, you can recognize how many of the same contributing factors and causes there are and how co-occurring and multifaceted the abuse often is. Our responses need to take that into account.
What are some of the initiative’s achievements?
On the research front, we’ve now had nearly 20 interdisciplinary faculty research grants that have led to multiple publications and substantial federal funding to further the research. For example, one project brought together UCI experts from biomedical engineering, radiological sciences, environmental engineering and pediatrics to create 3D computer models of brain trauma in children. Another project looked at interrupting the cycle of violence against commercially sexually exploited children through interviewing methods for eliciting disclosures.
Our graduate student fellowship has had over 30 participants. It’s thrilling to see them create research in partnership with our community organizations and under the mentorship of our initiative faculty and then go on to devote their careers to these issues.
We see the legal barriers that victims face, the gaps in the law, and have proposed multiple bills. We drafted bill language and testified before the California Legislature for SB 374, which made California the first state to include reproductive coercion in its definition of domestic abuse.
Our UCI faculty members have partnered with advocates from local agencies to develop a cross-disciplinary curriculum to train healthcare providers about domestic violence. We had 30 in-person training sessions all around Orange County and created a series of online modules – before COVID made that an everyday thing – that cover different cultural components, teen dating violence and reproductive coercion.
Since 2013, we’ve hosted more than 80 educational events and continue to offer really robust programming via Zoom that has attracted international audiences and speakers. Domestic and family violence are not limited by borders and boundaries. There are local solutions, but there are much broader societal dynamics to address.