Zero Abuse Project (ZAP) is a movement launched by Mitchell Hamline School of Law and Jeff Anderson & Associates with the purpose of educating professionals and students and transforming institutions to effectively prevent, recognize and respond to child abuse nationwide. Zero Abuse Project will include a dedicated child advocacy clinic with experienced professionals who will be involved in research, developing and teaching courses, influencing public policy change and impact litigation.

Zero Abuse Project will include:

(1)  Impact Litigation - Zero Abuse Project will align with volunteer attorneys, law students and clinic faculty, to transform the legal process and make systematic changes in child abuse protection and prevention through impact litigation.

Impact litigation, or strategic litigation, is the practice of bringing lawsuits intended to effect societal change. Impact litigation cases may be class action lawsuits or individual claims with broader significance, and may rely on statutory law arguments or on constitutional claims. Such litigation has been widely and successfully used to influence public policy and has been used by Morris Dees at the Southern Poverty Law Center and by civil rights groups such as NAACP and the ACLU.

(2)  Training legal professionals in trauma-informed processes - Many legal professionals working with abuse survivors are exposed to client trauma and secondary stress without appropriate knowledge and training. Zero Abuse Project will promote a more sensitive, trauma-informed legal system.  

The concept of trauma-informed care (TIC) has been around for decades. Like PTSD, the concept grew out of the understanding of trauma on war veterans. (Wilson, Pence & Conrad, 2013). In the 1990s, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) further explored the concept through empirical research and expanded TIC to incorporate all levels of an organization, especially in direct service of traumatized individuals. Today TIC is being applied to nonprofits, schools, homeless shelters, hospitals and other agencies serving trauma survivors.

The main tenets of employing a trauma-informed approach are as follows:

  • Basic knowledge of the impact of trauma on the brain and body and being equipped with the tools to serve effectively;
  • Consistent emphasis on safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment (emphasis on doing “with” rather than “for” or “to”);
  • Building and maintaining trust through transparency and communication;
  • Empowering and giving voice to clients through a shared decision-making process;
  • Providing culturally responsive services and ensuring staff is aware of the connection between oppression and trauma;
  • Recognizing everyone in the organization has a role to play in being trauma-informed;
  • A ‘strengths-based’ approach which acknowledges people’s skills, notwithstanding the enormity and effects of overwhelming experiences with which they may be struggling.

(3)  Nationwide online certificates and training of professionals and advocates in child protection. Zero Abuse Project’s training and educational program is designed to teach front-line child protection workers (social workers, police, lawyers, judges, therapists, etc.) in a cross-disciplinary approach so that professionals can learn about child protection and abuse prevention as a whole in order to be part of the overall solution to child abuse. Students will learn about cutting-edge research and the latest from experts in the field.

(4)  Teaching Students – Zero Abuse Project will educate law students in the field of child protection and abuse, resulting in many more informed advocates to advance its mission. Teaching students will be accomplished first in the law school setting with focused courses on all areas of child sex abuse, such as civil litigation for sexual crimes and prosecution of sexual crimes. There will also be a child advocacy clinic where future professionals can get front-line experience working with child sexual abuse survivors and on aspects of child protection. Classes will begin at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in 2018.