COURAGE Initiative

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The COURAGE Initiative, based out of Miami Law’s Human Rights Program, is supported by the Roddenberry Foundation and founded and directed by Professor Caroline Bettinger-López, who co-leads COURAGE projects with Professor Tamar Ezer and Professor Denisse Córdova Montes. Projects seek to improve responses to gender-based violence in the context of law enforcement, COVID-19, and the workplace.

Community Oriented and United Responses to Address Gender Violence and Equality

COURAGE involves the following projects:

COURAGE in Policing Project

The COURAGE in Policing Project works to enhance the law enforcement response to domestic violence and sexual assault, in partnership with community-based organizations, police departments, and national leaders.

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  • Project Overview

    Staffed by law students at the Miami Law Human Rights Clinic, the COURAGE in Policing Project aims to improve access to safety and justice for all survivors, with a particular focus on:

    • Women of color
    • Immigrant women
    • Disabled women
    • LGBTQI individuals
    • Underserved populations

    The project builds upon the work of human rights frameworks and structures at the local level, such as municipalities that have passed resolutions declaring that “Freedom from Domestic Violence is a Fundamental Human Right” as well as “CEDAW Cities,” to engage them in efforts to work with police departments in their local jurisdictions to implement the key principles of the DOJ Guidance. It also builds upon the promising practices in jurisdictions that are developing pilot projects to implement the DOJ Guidance through grants from the DOJ Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).

  • Project Goals


    • Develop model community assessments and climate surveys, to assess how law enforcement is responding to domestic violence and sexual assault at the community level, and to identify priority issues for local advocates;
    • Provide tools for use of research and data monitoring in order to identify and prevent gender bias in law enforcement responses to domestic violence and sexual assault;
    • Develop a repository of information and resources through a special COURAGE webpage, to assist organizations and communities with implementation of the DOJ Guidance through improved trainings, policies, supervision protocols, and systems of accountability;
    • Develop a community toolkit to complement the impact campaign associated with HOME TRUTH, a documentary that focuses on the life and activism of Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales), whose case to compel greater law enforcement accountability in enforcing orders of protection went to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
    • Bring an intersectional gender lens to this initiative to identify resources and promising practices for improving law enforcement responses to better serve survivors from marginalized populations who face additional barriers, including women of color, immigrant women, disabled women, indigenous women, LGBTQI individuals, and other underserved populations;
    • Facilitate ongoing engagement between communities and police departments, through the use of the tools described above; and
    • Facilitate a national conversation among local communities to foster innovation, enhance coordinated community responses, and support peer learning to advance national and local momentum on improving the law enforcement response to gender violence.

  • Why We Need to Improve Police Responses

    Improving the response to gender violence is often not a top law enforcement priority, even though:

    • Domestic and sexual violence calls for service comprise the majority of 911 calls to many police departments;
    • These 911 calls are among the most dangerous assignments for responding officers;
    • Our national conversation about bias in policing has tended to focus on race and national origin, not sex or gender;
    • 2015 survey of victims who called the National Domestic Violence Hotline, as well as a 2015 survey victim advocates and professionals, demonstrated
      • a strong reluctance on the part of many victims to turn to law enforcement for help; and
      • significant barriers when victims do seek law enforcement assistance.

  • Department of Justice Guidance on Preventing Gender Bias in Policing

    The COURAGE in Policing Project was established after the 2015 Guidance on Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence (DOJ Guidance). As detailed in this report, the DOJ Guidance reflects input provided by a wide array of stakeholders and experts, including police leaders, victim advocates, survivors, and civil rights advocates.

    It aims to advance more trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches in police response to domestic violence and sexual assault. The Guidance highlights 8 key principles for law enforcement agencies to integrate into trainings, protocols, and practices, to reduce potential gender bias in policing and develop more effective responses.

    1. Recognize and address biases, assumptions and stereotypes about victims;
    2. Treat all victims with respect and employing trauma-informed interviewing tactics;
    3. Investigate sexual assault and domestic violence complaints thoroughly and effectively;
    4. Appropriately classify reports of sexual assault or domestic violence;
    5. Connect victims to appropriate services;
    6. Properly identify the assailant in domestic violence incidents.
    7. Hold officers who commit sexual assault or domestic violence accountable; and
    8. Maintain, review and act upon data regarding sexual assault and domestic violence to improve the law enforcement response.

  • Advocacy and Resources

    Miami Law’s Human Rights Clinic developed a human rights framework for improving law enforcement responses to gender-based violence, as well as a series of country case studies, focused on Canada, Brazil (in English and Portuguese), and the U.S., assessing good practices and challenges using this framework.


    • In October 2018, the Human Rights Clinic authored an intervention before the European Court of Human Rights focused on addressing officer-perpetrated domestic violence. The Clinic argued for heightened state responsibility in cases of officer-perpetrated GBV, noting that officers are uniquely positioned to use their state authority, training, and access to weapons and resources to facilitate abuse in their relationship. Moreover, heightened vigilance by the state is required to prevent impunity and safeguard the justice system’s integrity.
    • In October 2022, the Court issued its decision, agreeing that states must be “all the more stringent when investigating . . . their own law enforcement officers for the commission of serious crimes, including domestic violence and violence against women in general, than they are with ordinary offenders, because what is at stake is not only the issue of the individual criminal-law liability of the perpetrators but also the State’s duty to combat any sense of impunity felt by the offenders by virtue of their very office, and maintain public confidence in and respect for the law-enforcement system.” Please see a web story and blog on this case.

    A package of materials pushing for the repeal of Florida law SB 168 and other anti-immigrant laws in the U.S.:

    • In September 2020, the Clinic submitted an Amicus Brief to the Southern District of Florida in support of the plaintiffs in City of South Miami, et al. v. Ron DeSantis, et al. The brief discusses how SB 168 will negatively impact immigrant survivors of gender-based violence.
    • In February 2020, the Clinic published a law review article in the Harvard Latinx Law Review that discusses how anti-immigrant laws violate the international human rights law to which the United States is bound.
    • In November 2019, the Clinic published an op-ed in the Miami Herald. The link to the article can be found here: Repeal Florida law that leaves immigrant domestic-violence victims in greater danger | Opinion
    • In October 2019, the Clinic submitted a report on the impact of anti-immigrant laws in the U.S. on immigrant survivors of gender-based violence, as part of the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. by the U.N. Human Rights Council, The Clinic's report highlights Florida’s new anti-immigrant law, SB 168, as a prime example of how such laws place survivors in greater danger, exacerbate their trauma, and undermine public safety. A web story on this advocacy can be found at Clinic Submits Four Reports to the United Nations Alleging Violations in the U.S. The Clinic additionally developed a factsheet on the impact of SB 168 on Immigrant survivors of gender-based violence.

    Community Surveys:

    • In February 2019, the Human Rights Clinic launched two surveys in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole, geared towards survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their advocates in South Florida on their experience with law enforcement responses to domestic violence and sexual assault. The COURAGE team developed these surveys following roundtables with various community-based organizations in South Florida.
    • Additionally, the Clinic developed a survey in English and Spanish geared towards service providers of domestic violence and sexual assault in South Florida on their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic.

COURAGE in COVID-19 Project

The Human Rights Clinic, with the support of Survivors Pathway and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council of Greater Miami (DVSAC), administered an anonymous survey with service providers and conducted focus groups and individual interviews with service providers and survivors to understand the unique impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on:

  1. Agencies’ abilities to provide services and support their own service providers.
  2. Service providers’ personal well-being and ability to serve survivors.
  3. Survivors’ personal well-being and ability to access services and safety.

The Clinic further coordinated a real-time Google spreadsheet about current domestic violence (DV) services in South Florida.

Please see our research findings in The Duty to Protect Survivors of Gender-based Violence in the Age of Covid-19: An Expanded Human Rights Framework, which was published by the University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review Journal in 2022.

COURAGE in the Workplace Project

The Human Rights Clinic supports global and South Florida-based organizations in their work with survivors of workplace gender-based violence.

In 2018, the Human Rights ClinicWeCount!Miami Workers Center, and Community Justice Project were the joint recipients of a TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund grant to support low-wage immigrant women workers in South Florida who have experienced workplace sexual misconduct or related retaliation. The coalition used the grant to collectively initiate a new project, Voces Unidas/VWA Ini: Building a Local Movement to End Workplace Sexual Harassment and Violence against Low-Wage Immigrant Women Workers in South Florida. The coalition’s work has entailed the creation of surveys and focus group discussion guides to assess the prevalence of workplace gender-based violence in South Florida, as well as tools for organizers and workers to recognize and respond to gender-based violence in the workplace. This work has focused, in particular, on low-paid immigrant women farmworkers, domestic workers, and nursery workers.

Additionally in 2019, the Human Rights Clinic engaged in U.N. advocacy on workplace gender-based violence through the submission of a civil society report to the Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. entitled Violations of the Human Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination in the United States: Low-Paid Migrant Workers’ Experiences with Workplace Gender-Based Violence and developed two related factsheets focused on domestic workers and agricultural workers.

In 2020, the Human Rights Clinic partnered with the Global 16 Days Campaign to contribute to amplify the voices of women workers in the informal economy while continuing to call for the ratification of ILO Convention 190 and to end all forms of gender-based violence in private and public spaces. The HRC contributed to the 2020 Global 16 Days Campaign Advocacy Guide and Supplement, which aim to increase the visibility of informal women workers by highlighting their concerns and recommending activities that can be undertaken during the 2020 Global 16 Days Campaign from November 25 – December 10, 2020 as well as throughout the year.

Resources addressing gender-based violence in the workplace:

COURAGE: Learn More

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If you are interested in learning more about the COURAGE in Policing project — including how to establish COURAGE in your city, county, or country — please contact

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