Wednesday, October 29, 2008

DV Survivor Brings Complaint Against US For Human Rights Violation

Last Wednesday, Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales), appeared before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss Castle Rock v. Gonzales, a 2005 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that local police departments are not responsible for enforcing restraining orders.

She guest-posted on to explain the hearing and why she sought it:

My name is Jessica Lenahan and I am a survivor of domestic violence. On Wednesday I will make my second appearance before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC. The IACHR is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights throughout the Americas. I turned to the IACHR three years ago because the justice system in the United States abandoned me.

In June 1999, my estranged husband, Simon Gonzales, abducted my three young daughters in violation of a domestic violence restraining order I had obtained against him three weeks before. I repeatedly contacted and pleaded with the Castle Rock Police for assistance, but they refused to act. Late that night, Simon arrived at the police station and opened fire. He was killed and the bodies of my three girls were found murdered in the cab of his truck.

I sued the town of Castle Rock, Colorado for failing to enforce the restraining order I had against my husband at the time. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, but they ruled that the enforcement of a restraining order wasn't mandatory under Colorado law. I felt utterly abandoned: the police had failed in their duty to protect me and my girls, and the government told me there was nothing wrong with that. I was sure that I would never have my day in court or a proper investigation of what happened. I nearly gave up at that point - I had gone all the way to the Supreme Court, and I thought that was the end of the line.

But in December 2005, with the help of the ACLU and the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, I filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In March 2007, I testified before the IACHR - the first time I was allowed to tell my story in a legal forum.

Before this case, I never knew this regional system existed and never thought of my private issues as human rights violations. I am the first survivor of domestic violence to bring an individual complaint against the United States for international human rights violations. I want other people like me out there to know that this system exists to protect all of us, and that our government cannot just turn its back on us and get away with it. Although the U.S. is always pointing its finger at other countries for their human rights violations, there are plenty of violations occurring right here at home. International human rights bodies like the IACHR give U.S. citizens the opportunity to have a voice, particularly those who have lost everything.

It is fitting that my hearing is being held in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an important marker of what continues to be one of the most dangerous issues facing women today.

For more info, here's a video the NYACLU made about the case.

According to StopVAW, at the merits hearing on October 22, the Columbia/ACLU team made several legal arguments on Lenahan’s behalf (click here to read the brief), all based on the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

First, Lenahan argued the United States has an affirmative duty to protect the rights of its citizens that are enumerated in the Declaration, but the United States failed this duty when the Castle Rock police did not act to prevent her daughters’ murders. In particular, she argued the United States had duties to respond to her complaints when her daughters were kidnapped, to protect her daughters and to conduct a timely and thorough investigation into their murders. The United States’ failure to uphold its duties violated her and her daughters’ rights to life and personal security, and to family and private life. These failures also violated Lenahan’s rights to a remedy, humane treatment, truth, and equality.

The United States government argued that the petitioners had not demonstrated that the United States government, through its representatives in the Castle Rock police, breached its duties under the American Declaration. The government argued that the police acted reasonably and in good faith.

A decision on the merits of this case has not yet been made.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Video Game Combats Cultural Acceptance of Domestic Violence

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Creating a fun game may seem an unlikely way to tackle the serious problem of domestic violence. But that's the task facing a team of college students in quaint Vermont. An added challenge: The digital game has to be appealing and accessible to young people half a world away, in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.

As part of a broader campaign against gender violence, the United Nations wants to reach children, particularly boys, before stereotypes sink in. Seeing the global popularity of gaming, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) decided to partner with two media centers in Vermont. They hope to make a game available by the end of next year that can be adapted for various cultures.

"Games have evolved beyond entertainment and are a wonderful environment for exploring complex issues," says Suzanne Seggerman, president of Games for Change, a nonprofit in New York. "They let players try on new roles, new perspectives that they don't otherwise have access to. And for difficult subjects like domestic violence, there isn't a lot of opportunity for kids to explore other kinds of behaviors."

Interviews with the Cape Town boys revealed that they competed for girlfriends and believed many sexual myths.

"Some of the girls didn't want to ever get married because of domestic violence," says senior Amanda Jones. "When we asked them about the ideal husband, they used phrases like 'won't abandon the family,' 'respects me,' etc. The boys say [the violence] is not right, but at the same time they're like, 'Well, a lot of times women run to the police when it's not necessary.' The U.N. cites surveys showing that domestic violence affects between 10 percent and 69 percent of women around the world, depending on the country in which they live.

The dramas are based on the Sabido methodology - creating a story with characters that evolve to match positive role models.

Taking a cue from that method, "we're really not preaching to them," says game-design student Lauren Nishikawa. "The issue [of gender violence] comes up as part of the story line. The important part is, if anything negative happens, there is a punishment ... and a solution offered."

If only life also worked that way.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Domestic Violence and the Economy

Women's Resource Center has had a deluge of calls this week asking us to comment on the media's new favorite story: increases in domestic violence during tough economic times.

What we know is that when batterers are placed in negative situations that they cannot control, loss of their job or retirement savings for example, they seek out situations and people that they can control. Those most accessible are often their spouse or partner and their children.

However, tough economic times or feelings of being out of control do not cause domestic violence, and putting the financial situation in our country back under control will not be a magical cure. Poverty has long bred domestic violence (though abuse effects families of all income classes) and a lack of monetary resources for survivors trying to leave their relationships makes finding safety that much harder. What we do need to cure domestic violence is a world full of men and women who respect one another as partners and equals, and who are willing to commit their limited resources to providing options for women and children seeking safety.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Batterers as Parents

At the recent Georgia Commission on Family Violence Conference, attendees heard a keynote address from Lundy Bancroft, an author, workshop leader, and activist on trauma, abuse, and healing, about the effects of domestic violence on children. He has a number of articles on his website discussing the negative effects that children experience when parented by a perpetrator of domestic violence. We specifically recommend The Batterer as a Parent, where he writes:
Most of the characteristics that are typical of men who batter have potential ramifications for children in the home. Batterers often tend toward authoritarian, neglectful, and verbally abusive child-rearing. The effects on the children of these and other parenting weaknesses may be intensified by the children's prior traumatic experience of witnessing violence.
Influence of Battering on Parenting
  • creating role models that perpetuate the violence
  • undermining the mother's authority
  • retaliating against the mother for her efforts to protect the children
  • sowing divisions within the family
  • using the children as weapons against the mother
Safely fostering father-child relationships: Except in cases where the children are terrified of the battering parent or have been abused by him directly, children tend to desire some degree of ongoing contact with their fathers. Such contact can be beneficial as long as adequate safety measures are provided for the mother and children and the abuser is not given the opportunity to cause set-backs to the children's emotional recovery. These goals can be fostered through custody arrangements that take into full consideration the violence in the home caused by the battering parent and through the use of professionally supervised visitation, ideally based in a visitation center. Where unsupervised visitation is found to be safe, the use of relatively short visits that do not include overnight visits can reduce the batterer's ability to damage mother-child relationship, limit his negative influence on the children's behavior and value-systems, and ensure that the children feel safe and secure—while still allowing them to feel a continued connection to their father.
Women's Resource Center will begin to provide these supervised visitation services this month through our newest program, Nia's Place.

We encourage all of our readers, and especially judges and others working in the legal field, to read more from Lundy Bancroft, including Understanding the Batterer in Custody and Visitation Disputes and others.

In response to the increased media attention surrounding the release of Alec Baldwin’s book entitled, “A Promise to Ourselves,” the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and StopFamilyViolence. org released the following:

(September 29, 2008) Washington, DC – The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP), Stop Family Violence, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, four of the nation’s leading domestic violence victim advocacy organizations, call on the media and the courts to rectify the misunderstanding and misuse of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) in custody cases.

“Child custody cases are among the toughest cases courts have to handle. And in custody cases where domestic violence is involved, the judges have an even higher responsibility to ensure that the safety of family members is not dangerously impaired by misleading – and legally unjustifiable – ‘parental alienation syndrome’ theories,” said Sue Else, president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Parental Alienation Syndrome” is a claim that has been used to suggest that some parents try to undermine their children’s relationship with the other parent, typically the noncustodial parent, by making false statements about that other parent, most often in the form of abuse allegations. In fact, actor Alec Baldwin made that claim about his own child custody case in a recent interview with Diane Sawyer.

“PAS is being used by some abusers as a tactic to demonize parents’ attempts to protect their children from abuse, denying victims of domestic violence justice in the courts. The fact that some parents behave badly in ordinary cases is no reason to ignore real abuse when it is presented to the court,” also stated Else.

Joan Meier, DV LEAP’s Executive Director, said, “PAS was invented to defeat child abuse claims - and it has been remarkably successful in misleading family courts into believing that women who are sincerely trying to protect their children and themselves from abuse, are just seeking to end the children’s relationship with their noncustodial father.”

According to NNEDV, DV LEAP, SFV, and NCADV, victims of domestic violence face a surprisingly uphill battle in family court to win custody of and safety for their children. All too often, courts award custody and unsupervised visitation to parents found to have committed domestic abuse. Many courts handling custody cases do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and fail to properly factor in the impact of abuse when considering the best interests of the child.

“The most important factor judges should be weighing in making custody decisions is the safety of the mother and children, and the introduction of PAS overshadows this critical need for safety,” said Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Meier states that research has shown that children become “alienated” from a parent for a variety of valid reasons, most often resulting from the parent’s own negative behavior and relationship with that child.

“The proponents of ‘parental alienation syndrome’ are purveying invalid junk science is not even legally admissible. PAS has been emphatically rejected by the Presidential Task Force of the American Psychological Association and by the National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges. Leading researchers in the field of custody have agreed that PAS has no scientific validity and the only courts to address the issue have found it inadmissible,” said Meier.

“With the increased media attention surrounding the release of Alec Baldwin’s book, it is important to let the public know that victims of domestic violence are being silenced through the use of ‘parental alienation syndrome.’ We cannot afford to consign thousands of children to unsafe custody or visitation with abusive parents because family courts have come to believe that abuse allegations mean nothing more than a campaign of alienation,” said Else.

For more information regarding abuse of the legal system by perpetrators of domestic violence, see our post on judicial stalking.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month was in 1987. The goal was to coordinate efforts nationwide to educate communities about domestic violence, the effects on community, and the resources available to help survivors. The first national domestic violence hotline began that same year.

In 1989, the first Domestic Violence Awareness Month Commemorative Legislation was passed by the United States Congress. Since its enactment, state legislatures across the nation have done the same as well.

Read Obama/Biden and Sarah Palin 's comments regarding DV Awareness Month.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is also a time to encourage the public to take active steps to address domestic violence. The hope is that a month of intensified awareness efforts combined with the broad spectrum of anti-domestic violence work throughout the year will bring us closer to ending domestic violence.

In honor of awareness month, we suggest you read our DV 101 series to learn more about domestic violence, and join us for our annual Candlelight Vigil, where we remember those who have lost their lives in our state and renew our commitment to anti-violence work. The Vigil will be held on October 16, 2008 at the Gazebo in Decatur Square. You can park at the DeKalb County Courthouse or take Marta to the Decatur Station. More info can be found on our website.