The American Civil Liberties Union and several other human rights groups appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today and presented testimony that detailed the United States’ failure to adequately implement changes to its laws and policies on domestic violence that the Commission recommended in 2011.
The IACHR directed the United States to make the changes after deciding Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States, the first case brought before the Commission against the U.S. government by a domestic violence survivor. The case was previously heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Town of Castle Rock v. Jessica Gonzales.
In 1999, Lenahan repeatedly called the police after her estranged husband, who was subject to a domestic violence restraining order, kidnapped their three daughters. Police in Castle Rock, Colorado, failed to respond to her calls and 10 hours later, he drove his pick-up truck to the local police station and opened fire. The police returned fire, killing him. The bodies of Lenahan’s daughters were found dead in the back of the truck. To this day, it is unknown who killed the children.
In its 2011 decision, the Commission recommended that the government conduct an investigation into the cause, time and place of the girls’ deaths and the systemic failures of the Castle Rock police department to enforce the domestic violence restraining order. It also recommended that the government provide compensation to Lenahan and her family and adopt reforms at the federal and state levels to ensure protection from domestic violence.
Human rights groups praised the IACHR’s landmark decision but the United States has made almost no progress in implementing the reforms since the decision was made.
“The time has come for the government to take concrete steps to prevent domestic violence, investigate incidences that occur and hold police accountable when they fail to respond adequately,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “We hope the hearing today will push the government to take meaningful action in this regard.”
As a first step toward compliance, human rights groups worked with the State Department and the Department of Justice to organize a Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Non-Discrimination and Human Rights Roundtable in April 2014 to educate federal staff about how human rights standards reinforce and supplement existing U.S. laws and policies. However, the roundtable has not yet yielded concrete results.
“While landmark U.S. legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act exists to address the high incidence of violence against women, there is little in terms of legally binding federal provisions which provide substantive protection or prevention for acts of domestic violence,” said Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, who investigated the U.S. government’s responses to domestic violence during a country visit in 2011.
Last month, on the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation affirming, “the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse.” The important language of this proclamation must be translated into effective responses to and prevention of domestic violence.
“For 15 years, I have asked my government to investigate who killed my daughters, and when and where they died,” said Jessica Lenahan. “I will not stop seeking answers until I see my government take concrete steps toward conducting this investigation and repairing the human rights violations that I have suffered.”
The ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, Human Rights Clinics at the University of Miami Law School and University of Chicago Law School, and Columbia Law School represent Lenahan and will continue to work with the government until actionable steps toward reform in domestic violence protection and prevention are taken.
10 June 2013 – An independent United Nations human rights expert has stressed the need to hold States accountable not only for investigating acts of violence against women but also for failing to prevent such violence.
Despite numerous developments, violence against women remains “endemic” and the lack of accountability for violations experienced by women is the rule rather than the exception in many countries, Rashida Manjoo, the Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, said in a report presented to the Human Rights Council last week.
“States are required to hold accountable those who fail to protect and prevent, as well as those who perpetrate, violations of women’s rights,” she added.
She noted in a related new release that the responsibility of States is generally based on acts or omissions either committed by State actors or by those whose actions are attributable to the State. But a State may incur responsibility where there is a failure to exercise due diligence to prevent or respond to certain acts or omissions of non-State actors.
Human rights due diligence requires constant investigation and evaluation to assess whether universally accepted human rights principles apply in a State’s own behaviour and in a State’s monitoring of third party behaviour – be they individuals or an organization, she added.
Ms. Manjoo stressed that there was a need to create a framework for discussing the responsibility of States to act with due diligence, through separating that standard into two categories: individual due diligence which States owe to individual victims of violence, and systemic due diligence which requires States’ obligations to create a functioning system to eliminate violence against women.
The report says that States can fulfil the individual due diligence obligation of protection by providing a woman with services such as telephone hotlines, health care, counselling centres, legal assistance, shelters, restraining orders and financial aid. Education on protection measures and access to effective measures can also help fulfil protection and prevention obligations that an individual is owed by the State.
Due diligence can also include ensuring effective investigations, prosecution and sanctions; guaranteeing access to adequate and effective judicial remedies; and treating women victims and their relatives with respect and dignity throughout the legal process.
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. They work in an unpaid capacity.
New York Times article – Native Americans and the Violence Against Women Act: Rape on the Reservation, by Louise Erdrich, an American author of novels, poetry, and children’s books featuring Native American characters and settings.
What seems like dry legislation can leave Native women at the mercy of their predators or provide a slim margin of hope for justice. As a Cheyenne proverb goes, a nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.
If our hearts are on the ground, our country has failed us all. If we are safe, our country is safer.
The New York Times vs. Single Mothers
For more than 40 years, Legal Momentum has conducted in-depth research and policy advocacy on behalf of women in poverty. Legal Momentum strongly objects to the support expressed by the New York Times for the sexist and misogynistic notion that single mothers cannot and do not raise well-behaved children. This is the patent falsehood expressed in their article, “Obama vs. Poverty” which will be the cover story in the upcoming August 19, 2012 print edition of the Times Sunday Magazine. The article is now available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/magazine/obama-poverty.html?ref=magazine.
The male author of the article quotes a male interview subject as stating, “If you don’t have a father figure in your life, you don’t have discipline and structure, and without structure, you don’t have anything. You have chaos.”
The article then states, “This analysis has support from many of the academics who study [poverty],” yet the author never mentions any contrary points of view – even though many experts disagree strongly.
Half of all U.S. children spend at least some part of their childhood in a single mother family, just as President Obama did. Most of these children are well behaved, do well in school, and grow up to be productive workers, good parents, and upstanding neighbors.
It is true, as the article says, that some children in single mother families, like some children in single father families, and some in coupled parent families, will be permanently scarred by the deep poverty that far too many U.S. children experience.
However, the problem is not single motherhood – it is the flawed social policies that allow child poverty to persist in the U.S. at much higher rates than in other high-income countries. In the U.S., poverty rates among children in single parent families, as well as poverty rates among children in coupled parent families, are much higher than the rates of child poverty in other high-income countries.
Legal Momentum’s Facts About Single Motherhood in the United States –
A Snapshot 2012
Prevalence: Single motherhood is very common. Around half of today’s mothers will spend at least some time as the sole custodial parent. At any one time, almost one quarter of mothers are single mothers.
Income: Half of single mother families have an annual income of less than $25,000. Median income for single mother families is only one-third the median for married couple families. Only one third of single mothers receive any child support, and the average amount these mothers receive is only about $300 a month.
Poverty: Two fifths of single mother families are poor, triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population. The majority of poor children are in single mother families. Child poverty is linked to school dropout; to negative adult outcomes including joblessness and ill health; and to reduced economic output estimated to be about 4% of Gross Domestic Product.
Hardship: Two fifths of single mother families are “food insecure,” one seventh use food pantries, one fifth have no health insurance, one third spend more than half their income on housing. Three quarters of homeless families are single mother families.
Welfare & Food Stamp Receipt: Although two fifths of all single mothers are poor, only one tenth of all single mothers receive cash welfare assistance. Two fifths of single mothers receive Food Stamps.
Compared to Single Mothers in Peer Countries: The single mother poverty rate in the U.S. is far above the average among high-income countries, even though the single mother employment rate in the U.S. is also above the average. Less generous income support programs in the U.S. help explain the exceptionally high poverty rate for single mother families in the U.S.
Characteristics: About 45% of single mothers have never married, about 55% are divorced, separated, or widowed. Half have one child, 30% have two. About two fifths are White, one-third Black, one-quarter Hispanic. One quarter have a college degree, one sixth have not completed high school.
Employment: At any one time, about two thirds of single mothers are also working outside the home, a slightly greater share than the share of married mothers who are also working outside the home. However, only two fifths of single mothers are employed full-time the entire year, and a quarter are jobless the entire year.
For more information, go to Single Mothers on the Legal Momentum website, or contact Timothy Casey, firstname.lastname@example.org