First-of-its-Kind Gender-Based Violence: Law, Policy, & Practice Course Gives Students Real-World Experience

View Archives


Albany Law School continues to find innovative ways to advance its curriculum to prepare students for a career in law. A fitting example is the new Gender-Based Violence: Law, Policy, and Practice class. The two-credit course, first offered in the spring semester of 2024, focuses on the first-of-its-kind federal plan "U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence: Strategies for Action," which was adopted in the spring of 2023. It is a comprehensive, government-wide approach to prevent and address sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and other forms of gender-based violence through a set of defined principles, pillars, and strategies. While the national plan was adopted at the federal level recently, the need to implement those strategies at the state and local levels remains; this class allows students to use the federal guidelines to develop and influence New York State legislation, as well as work with client's and organizations in the Capital Region directly affected by gender-based violence.

Edward P. Swyer Justice Center

"At this moment in time, this is an important course to have at Albany Law School," said Professor Mary Lynch, Director of the Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic within the Edward P. Swyer Justice Center. “We have, for decades, been leaders in precedent-making seminars and clinics, law school curriculum, and government.  This course is the first of its kind. We have also always had an extensive offering of courses in the area of what used to be called Domestic violence, what is now called Gender-based Violence."

The course came about as a collaboration between Lynch and Elizabeth Getz '23. Getz worked on the "U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence: Strategies for Action" at the U.S. Department of Justice as a part of her Semester in Practice experience. Getz's work at DOJ, her experience with Professor Lynch in the Domestic Violence Prosecution Hybrid Clinic, and the comprehensive plan paved the way for additional opportunities for current and future students of Albany Law School at all levels of government and advocacy.

"This class serves as an opportunity for students to not only get involved in their community and understand the impact that it can have on survivors and changing people's lives, but it also shows the importance of law and policies related to domestic violence and gender-based violence," said Gracie Westerfield '25, who worked with Professor Lynch as a teaching and research assistant for the class. "This is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to get involved, not even just in a domestic violence-centered way, but in a survivor and client-centered mindset. Lawyers work with clients daily, and they need skills to focus on the client's needs and expectations."

The effort, spearheaded by Professor Lynch, has not only allowed students enrolled in the class to be on the cutting edge of government policy and domestic violence advocacy, but it has also given Westerfield an opportunity beyond her core curriculum.

"I'm thankful that she saw something in me that could go beyond just student responsibilities and put a lot of trust into me developing this course with her," Westerfield said. "We started back in the Fall of 2023 discussing what we would want the students to get out of this class and how the importance of the curriculum could not only come from a national plan of ending gender-based violence but also right here in Albany. We took inspiration from cities like Chicago and Seattle, which already have a developed local city plan for ending gender-based violence, and we want to have students learn the law and skills to influence local legislation down the line."

Giovanni Malpezzi '24 and Paige DeCecco '24 were among the first students to take the class during the Spring 2024 semester. Over the course of the semester, Malpezzi and DeCecco worked with New York State's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center, respectively, to take what they learned about the "U.S. National Plan to end Gender-Based Violence: Strategies for Action" in the classroom and come up with recommendations to help influence meaningful legislation at the local level as well as enact best practices for crisis hotlines.

For Malpezzi, working with the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and helping put together a recommendation for legislation that may be passed into law was a unique experience.

Giovanni Malpezzi Presentation

"Huge credit to the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Jara Traina [General Counsel at OPDV] was a great advisor and supervisor and guided me along the process," Malpezzi said. "I hope our lethality assessment recommendation does get passed; I think it will help; it was great working with that office to make it. I think this is one of the unique opportunities you get at Albany Law School that you cannot get anywhere else; because we are in the Capital of New York and all the government agencies are located here, there are tons and tons of opportunities for advocacy, working for the legislature, working for the courts, and working for the various government agencies."

In addition to the real-world experience this class afforded Malpezzi, he is equally grateful for Professor Lynch's teaching and mentoring.

"Professor Lynch is awesome; she is very passionate, has a wealth of knowledge, and is overall pleasant to be around and learn from," Malpezzi said. "When I signed up for the class, I did not know much about it, but I just went for it, and I am glad I did."

DeCecco said she had a similar experience, adding that the experience she gained from this class will help her as she begins a career at the Bronx District Attorney's Office in the Fall of 2024.


"I knew that this kind of class would help me speak with and understand victims in a different light than what I had been exposed to during my internships at the DA's office," DeCecco said. "I felt like the experience I [previously] lacked centered around how to talk with people and how to understand the effects of what people go through as opposed to focusing on the legal aspects of that. This class helped me gain the experience I needed to feel confident in starting my career as a prosecutor."

DeCecco gained much of that valuable experience while working on her semester-long project with the Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center to review and update the hotline for victims of sexual violence to meet the standards of the U.S. National Plan.

"I am grateful to have worked on such a project,” DeCecco said." This hotline is used for all of Albany County, as well as the City of Albany. This class allowed me to impact so many lives. It has been incredibly rewarding to hear positive feedback from the Director of the Albany County Crime Victims and Sexual Violence Center, Karen Ziegler."

DeCecco spent months reviewing the hotline's training modules and said she felt fulfilled as her recommendations began to be implemented.

"This is a different opportunity than I am used to because it allowed me to be more creative. It was not just: 'read through this textbook and answer these questions,'" DeCecco said. "Rather, it was: 'Here is the national plan, and here are the current training modules used for the hotline. How should we update these?' I had broad discretion about what ideas should be implemented into the hotline; it is surreal."

Outside of academics, DeCecco said she is hopeful that work to update and improve the hotline will continue past her project.

"I am proud of our work, but the work itself is far from done. This project is not the final product, but the beginning," DeCecco said.

Professor Lynch is inspired by the work that DeCecco and Malpezzi put in and is proud of them for seizing this opportunity.

Giovanni Malpezzi

“They made a difference this semester,” Professor Lynch said. “Both Malpezzi and DeCecco [gained experience beyond being in the] library doing the research to help, but they got to brainstorm with leaders in these two organizations who were asking them: ‘What do you think we should do?’ They got to be in the conversations which you cannot replicate in the classroom.”

For current and future Albany Law School students, both DeCecco and Malpezzi have some advice.

"One of the main things you should keep in mind while taking this class is to believe in yourself," DeCecco said. "I think students tend to underestimate themselves, and this class helped me realize we students can impact people's lives and make a difference in the world."

Gender-based Violence: Law, Policy, & Practice

"Professor Lynch is amazing, and she pushes you to do the best you can, but she's super nice. She's willing to hear all types of viewpoints," Malpezzi said. "You feel the impact that your work in this class has locally. You're helping local people in this area and advocating for them. I was into private litigation, an almost completely different realm, and I loved my time in this class. I think this class is really for anybody."