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Abstract

The dominant theories used in the law to explain domestic violence, namely, the Power and Control Wheel and the Cycle of Violence, provide only limited insight into intimate partner abuse. Both theories focus exclusively on the abusive partner' wrongful actions, consistent with recent decades' concentration on criminalization, but fail to educate about the survivor's needs and efforts to end violence. The Stages of Change Model, conversely, reveals that domestic abuse survivors seek an end to relationship violence through a five-stage cyclical sequence and identifies the survivor's needs and actions at each stage. This critical information should inform the representation of abuse survivors; however, this model remains unknown in the legal profession, and this article is the first scholarship to apply this model to lawyering. This article evaluates the contributions and shortcomings of the dominant models. It examines how the Stages of Change Model fills a significant void and how insights from the Stages of Change Model can transform the representation of abuse survivors.

Domestic violence representation presents unique challenges to lawyers as they struggle with limited conceptions of their role, assumptions about abuse victims and how they should respond to violence, and feelings of fear and frustration when clients return to abusive partners. The Stages of Change Model can concretely illuminate the general client-centered model of legal representation and suggest multiple lawyering lessons for representing domestic violence survivors. The Stages of Change Model is widely accepted in the field of psychology, has been validated by numerous social science studies, and has the potential to achieve more client centered legal representation with greater safety outcomes. As I explore the enormous implications this model has for client representation in domestic violence law, I draw on my experience teaching domestic violence clinics and the transformation my students report when they learn and apply this model.

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