For the last three years, the UDC Law Legislation and Civil Rights Clinic has supported the DV LEAF initiative of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP). DV LEAF amplifies the connection between climate change and gender-based violence, including domestic violence. Students in the clinic have worked under the guidance of Clinic Director Marcy Karin to urge those in power to center the experiences of domestic violence survivors in policy that addresses climate change, including the Washington D.C. Commission on Climate Change and Resiliency (DC-CCCR) and the Biden Administration. 

Now, the Clinic and DV LEAF are bringing the issue to the international stage. 

UDC Law 3L Sarah Buskirk and DV LEAP Legal Director and Interim Executive Director Sasha Drobnick wrote a letter in March – in consultation with DV LEAP Managing Attorney Elizabeth Vogel – to United Nations (U.N.) Special Rapporteur Reem Alsalem. Buskirk, Drobnick and Vogel wrote the letter in response to Alsalem’s request for input for a report on climate change and violence against women and girls, which she will present in September during the U.N. General Assembly. 

“[Leg Clinic] students – with their energy, creativity and deep commitment to addressing the critical impacts of climate change on survivors – have been vital partners in shaping DV LEAF’s work.”


The DV LEAP input urged Alsalem and the U.N. to include the needs of survivors in climate mitigation and adaptation policies, including increasing public awareness of the issue, listening to survivors’ stories, conducting research and expanding relief and recovery efforts. 

The letter emphasized the ways in which the emotional and structural impact of extreme weather and other climate-based stressors – including the loss of homes, jobs or financial security – exacerbate domestic violence in the United States. Such losses heighten precursors to domestic violence such as feelings of powerlessness and a need for control. DV LEAP argues it is vital to hear the stories of survivors and center those experiences in the global response to climate change. 

In reflecting on the U.N. submission, Vogel said, “I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Sarah Buskirk and Professor Karin,” adding that she was “grateful for their expert guidance in adding this exciting, new international dimension to DV LEAF.” 

Buskirk said, “It was an honor to write a submission for the United Nations Special Rapporteur. I am thankful for the opportunity.” 

Karin (center) with DV LEAF staff and UDC Law Prof. Chris Payne-Tsoupros at Community Champion Award event (Oct. 2021)

DV LEAF was launched to educate stakeholders about the connection between deleterious shifts in the global climate and its impact on gender-based violence and to plant trees to honor survivors and mend the earth. In addition to the letter to the U.N., students in the Legislation and Civil Rights Clinic have assisted DV LEAP by urging those in power to acknowledge the connection, listen to survivors, address their needs and advocate for policy to do the same. Several students have contributed to the development of the project this year, including members of the class of 2022 Francesca Bryce, Azuree Bowman, Sophia Balemian-Spencer, Kadian Townsend and Emma Sales. The students worked with Karin to engage with the White House Gender Policy Council, Biden Administration and the DC-CCCR and to create resource guides for addressing climate change and domestic violence. The guides focus on several areas, from available research to coverage in news media as well as the unique impacts within Indigenous communities and other vulnerable populations. 

Drobnick said of working with the Clinic, “DV LEAP could not have launched our DV LEAF initiative in its current depth without the UDC Law Legislation and Civil Rights Clinic students or Professor Karin’s leadership. The students – with their energy, creativity and deep commitment to addressing the critical impacts of climate change on survivors – have been vital partners in shaping DV LEAF’s work. They are a joy to work with!” 

Flora Patel, Development Coordinator for DV LEAP, added, “The materials the Clinic has developed on different aspects of the intersection of climate change and domestic violence have once again provided powerful context for our annual Earth Day campaign.” 

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