Addressing Gender-Based Violence

Shifting the Paradigm

By Meg Mathis
All too often, gender-based violence is viewed through a filtered lens. At Wayne State University Law School, our faculty, alumni and students are viewing this issue from multiple angles, combining on-the-ground expertise with world-class research to better understand what’s at stake for those at risk. Take a closer look at the exemplary work that’s being done by members of our own community, who are using their scholarship and determination in their fearless pursuit of change.
By Meg Mathis
All too often, gender-based violence is viewed through a filtered lens. At Wayne State University Law School, our faculty, alumni and students are viewing this issue from multiple angles, combining on-the-ground expertise with world-class research to better understand what’s at stake for those at risk. Take a closer look at the exemplary work that’s being done by members of our own community, who are using their scholarship and determination in their fearless pursuit of change.

Broadening perspectives

Sabrina Balgamwalla headshot
“I have always been interested in the experiences of stateless people and refugees,” said Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic Director Sabrina Balgamwalla. “Over time, this evolved into thinking about bigger questions about migration and social inclusion.” Through her scholarship, the assistant professor of law tackles some of those bigger questions, exploring what it means to be seen and belong in a society. Here, Balgamwalla addresses the different truths that exist within the scope of gender-based violence.

How has your perspective of gender-based violence changed over time?

My thinking about gender-based violence has changed since my early experiences as a nonprofit attorney, representing immigrant survivors of domestic violence. For every client who wanted a protective order, there was another who was wary about the process. All of my clients wanted the violence to stop, but they also did not want to see their partners incarcerated or deported, did not want to involve the police or the court system, [and] could not support their families as the only breadwinner. It was important for me to understand the competing concerns that my clients had, and take seriously their reservations about calling the police or going to court.

I now see gender-based violence reflected in so many ways other than in intimate partner violence: in familial abuse of children and elders, in personal and systemic harm to LGBTQ people, and in workplace violence and harassment. I no longer think of it as an interpersonal problem, but one that arises from social inequality and a narrow, singular view of masculinity. Accordingly, gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue — it affects everyone.

What are some examples of communities that might be more vulnerable to gender-based violence, and what makes these groups more vulnerable?

Power differentials are generally at the root of violence that many of us consider gender-based — these can exist within a relationship, but are often reflective of society as a whole. Communities that have to regularly contend with the tension between entrenched and shifting gender roles are often deeply impacted by this violence. There has been important recent scholarship on gender-based violence in immigrant communities, LGBTQ communities, and the families of military and law enforcement officers.

How does gender-based violence impact immigrants?

Migration has historically been a male experience motivated by reasons related to public life, whether that is earning money as a breadwinner or seeking freedom based on political beliefs or other public identities. But this is changing: It is now much more common for immigrants to be women or young people fleeing family violence or the confines of gender roles. Another important contingent of individuals fleeing gender-based violence is LGBTQ people.

Migrations can be understood as acts of agency, motivated by resistance to notions of women as property, the doctrine of gender conformity, and power structures that have long condoned sexual violence as a means of maintaining both public and domestic law and order.

Assistant Professor Sabrina Balgamwalla with students
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Examining the intersections of gender, race and citizenship in immigration policy and enforcement, Assistant Professor Sabrina Balgamwalla has led Wayne Law’s Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic since 2017.
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Speaking with expertise

Nancy Chi Cantalupo headshot
A nationally respected voice on Title IX, sexual harassment and gender-based violence, Nancy Chi Cantalupo joined the Law School faculty as an assistant professor this fall. Her study of Title IX can be traced to her days as a student activist, when she was asked to co-chair Georgetown University’s Sexual Assault Working Group; after completing her undergraduate studies, she stayed on at Georgetown, continuing as the working group’s administrative co-chair and leading the university’s Women’s Center.

“I got this very detailed and deep sense of what a university needed to do to really prevent, in a comprehensive fashion, this kind of violence from occurring,” said Cantalupo, who earned her juris doctor from Georgetown Law.

After joining Faegre Drinker Biddle and Reath as an associate, where she practiced in its higher education group and did civil rights work (to wit, the firm represented plaintiffs who sued the Washington Football Team for revocation of their trademark as a racial slur), Cantalupo returned to Georgetown Law, working as an assistant dean for clinical programs, adjunct professor and researcher.

It was during this time that she was invited to speak with the Obama administration’s newly launched White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault — including Task Force Chairs Valerie Jarrett and Lynn Rosenthal.

“I estimate that I had written 85% of the legal literature on using Title IX to combat sexual violence on college campuses and sexual harassment in education,” Cantalupo said. “The task force did extensive consultations with people outside of the government, and I got pulled into these consultations because of my writing.”

Considering her research and scholarship, it’s no wonder that she has been repeatedly sought out for preeminent pro bono and consulting roles, including writing early drafts of Recommendations for Improving Campus Student Conduct Processes for Gender-Based Violence for the ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, speaking on a U.S. Senate roundtable, testifying before state legislatures, and serving on the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee that amended regulations to the Clery Act. As #MeToo and other movements joined the student Title IX movement in protesting the subsequent administration’s dismantling of a wide range of civil rights protections, Cantalupo continued her efforts, examining how the administration’s inconsistent treatment of racial and sexual harassment targeted survivors of color for increased and intersectionally race- and sex-based discrimination.

At Wayne Law, Cantalupo is eager to contribute again to federal civil rights law and policymaking, especially if the Biden administration convenes a Negotiated Rulemaking Committee similar to the 2014 one in which she participated.

“I am mainly happy that our committee negotiated good regulations, but for me as a law professor, to engage in a process that was literally making administrative law was fascinating,” she said of her nominated role on the committee — an opportunity that stemmed from her work with the Victim Rights Law Center. “It was really incredible to participate in that process from the inside and contribute to making law on a topic that I had done so much thinking and research about.”

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A respected expert in Title IX, Assistant Professor Nancy Chi Cantalupo participated in a roundtable discussion, hosted by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, on combating rape and sexual assaults on college campuses.
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Nancy Chi Cantalupo speaking on the news

Digging deep

Ben VanSlyke headshot
For Ben VanSlyke ’21, an interest in anti-trafficking work developed, as he described it, “on accident.” He came across the subject of human trafficking while doing research as an undergraduate student in 2012.

“I came across the topic and I was like, How is that a thing that we allow to happen?” VanSlyke said. “Then I went into a bit of a research spiral and learned more about it from a general perspective and jumped in from there.”

Some might say that VanSlyke dove in headfirst, volunteering with an anti-trafficking non-governmental organization in Cambodia (“I wanted a way to get involved,” he said of the NGO, “and there weren’t a lot of opportunities locally”) before attending law school. While at Wayne Law, he spent time working with survivors at Alternatives For Girls (AFG) and was an active member of the Joint Anti-Trafficking Taskforce, where he helped develop best practices to guide service providers, particularly in more rural areas.

During his first year at the Law School, VanSlyke worked alongside five other students as a lead organizer of the anti-trafficking conference, “(S)exploiting the Vulnerable: Empowering Future Legal Advocates to Combat Sex Trafficking.” The daylong event included a variety of panels on topics such as social policy and legislation, legal advocacy for survivors, and investigation and adjudication at the state level, with VanSlyke moderating the opening panel that featured a discussion with survivors.

“Survivor perspectives are often overlooked, and we [didn’t] want to do that,” said VanSlyke, who had first connected with one of the panelists during his time at AFG. “We [wanted] to frame this whole conference on how they see these issues and how [we can] meet those needs.”

As the survivors were empowered to lead with their perspectives, VanSlyke observed that those in attendance gained valuable insight.

“You can see some of the impact that it had on the other people there,” he said, noting that State of Michigan Staff Policy Attorney Angela Povilaitis ’00 was one of them. “She pulled us aside after the panel. She was very impressed with the survivors and their ability to share their story in that public of a setting.”

Since the conference, VanSlyke has continued to play an active role in representing the Law School, notably serving as a Levin Center intern on Capitol Hill; speaking at a symposium on sex trafficking and opioids organized by the University of Kentucky Rosenberg College of Law; and penning the article “A Life Raft for Victims of Trafficking: Safe Harbor in the Great Lakes State” as a junior member of The Journal of Law in Society, which he went on to lead as editor-in-chief. Having earned his juris doctor in May 2021, he is setting his sights on life after law school — and he has a good idea of the discipline he hopes to pursue.

Said VanSlyke, “I would love to continue doing anti-trafficking work.”

Ben VanSlyke at a podium speaking
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As a 1L, Ben VanSlyke ’21 helped organize the daylong conference, “(S)exploiting the Vulnerable: Empowering Future Legal Advocates to Combat Sex Trafficking.” The event brought more than 200 lawyers, law students, social workers and members of the law enforcement community to Wayne Law and Detroit.
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Charting the course

Pamela S. Wall headshot
In a former life, Pamela S. Wall ’15 planned to become an educator. While tutoring elementary and middle school students, though, she made an observation that took her on a different career path.

“I realized that the children that I would want to be working with can’t focus on their learning if horrible things are happening at home,” she said. “I went to law school because I wanted to help children end up in better situations.”

It was during her time as vice chair of Wayne Law’s Free Legal Aid Clinic that she developed an interest in family law. Now, Wall is a staff attorney for LA VIDA Partnership, working with clients — often parents themselves — to create safer, more stable situations. Housed within the Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), LA VIDA Partnership offers free legal advocacy and counseling services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, primarily serving southwest Detroit’s Latinx community.

Recently, Wall secured a personal protection order on an emergency basis for a client who had been hospitalized by her abuser — a unique challenge, considering the hospital’s current protocols for COVID-19. At press time, with vaccines becoming widely available and cases beginning to decrease, she noted that she is beginning to hear from more and more clients.

“[The pandemic has] been a difficult time for everybody, but it’s been such a dangerous time for survivors stuck at home with their abusers,” Wall said, adding that she often serves undocumented immigrants who did not qualify for government aid, making leaving the situation all the more challenging. “Now that things are a little safer, I have a lot more people coming out of the woodwork and wanting to file for divorce [and] wanting to file for custody.”

During her three years and counting at LA VIDA Partnership, Wall has worked with a range of clients and notes that not every case has gone according to an ideal plan. She recalls working on one of her first cases for several months before the client ultimately returned to an abusive partner.

“Even if, at the end of the case, [the client] made a decision that wasn’t what she initially planned to do, I could see her standing straighter,” said Wall. “I like to think that she still took a little bit of the empowerment that we gave her back to her situation. I hope things are a little better than they were before.”

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As a staff attorney for LA VIDA Partnership at the Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS), Pamela S. Wall ’15 is passionate about building better situations for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
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Pamela S. Wall smiling outside of CHASS building

Shining a light

Kirsten Matoy Carlson headshot
“More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native people will experience violence in their lifetimes,” said Kirsten Matoy Carlson. Prior to becoming a professor of law, Carlson served as staff attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center, working with the National Congress of American Indians Task Force on Violence Against Women and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to raise awareness of issues surrounding violence against women in Indian country — an all but forgotten population in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Here, Carlson outlines the obstacles that continue to threaten these survivors.

Thinking about gender-based violence, what are some of the issues that women and tribes are facing in Indian country?

The biggest problem in Indian country is jurisdictional, and that’s because tribes do not have criminal jurisdiction over all perpetrators within their territories. Federal law greatly limits their ability to hold perpetrators accountable for violence. This is a huge problem because anybody who’s not considered an Indian under federal law can go into Indian country and beat up a girlfriend or rape a stranger, and the tribal government — which is the local government — has almost no power to do anything about it.

In 2013, VAWA started to address this problem by acknowledging that tribes have the inherent sovereignty to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators. But VAWA enables tribes to exercise jurisdiction over a very limited set of crimes, and tribes have to meet a number of safeguards for defendants’ rights to exercise it.

What actions are necessary to provide justice to survivors in Indian country?

Tribal governments are completely competent of handling these problems on their own, so what legislators and tribes have been working on is expanding the crimes over which tribes exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators. Right now, tribes can only exercise jurisdiction over domestic violence cases, and that doesn’t extend to anybody other than the woman — or, in some cases, the man — who has been the primary victim. If there’s a relative in the home that is exposed to the violence, there’s no extension of jurisdiction. There’s also no jurisdiction over related crimes, so you don’t have stalking, child abuse, sex trafficking or rape included. This leaves tribal governments hamstrung from protecting their communities because they don’t have any authority over all related violent crimes that can occur.

Here in Michigan, what is the landscape like?

Because federal law deals with almost all crimes in Indian country unless they’re committed between two non-Indians, the state doesn’t have a lot of a role in this area. Four tribes have opted in to exercise criminal jurisdiction over interpersonal violence crimes in Indian country [the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Indians, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians]. They’ve been working very hard on their programs and thinking about how, from a community perspective, they can end violence within their communities.
Kirsten Matoy Carlson and Rashida Manjoo smiling together
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Professor Kirsten Matoy Carlson, right, is pictured with Rashida Manjoo, the former U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women. As an attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center, Carlson helped coordinate Manjoo’s 2011 visit to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, marking the second time in history that a U.N. special rapporteur had visited Indian country.
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