Around the world, including here in the US, a woman’s greatest risk of violence is from someone she knows. And the international community, including the United States, recognizes violence against women as a human rights violation involving state responsibility.
In June of 1999, Jessica Lenahan lost her three daughters, aged 7, 8, and 10. On one terrible day in June, Jessica learned her three daughters were with her estranged husband, against whom she had a court-issued protection order.
Yet, on each of the eight times Jessica contacted the Castle Rock, Colorado Police Department, the police response ranged from uncoordinated to belittling. One officer even chided her for worrying as the girls were with their father, despite the man’s known history of emotional instability and abuse. No help was sent to secure her children, and they were later found dead in their father’s truck.
This was part of a systematic failure to protect Jessica and her children from domestic violence or the threat of violence, and it cost three little girls their lives.
Yet Jessica may finally have gotten some justice. In its first decision on a women’s rights case against the United States, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concluded that the US violated both Jessica’s rights to judicial protection and to be free from violence and non-discrimination and her three young daughters’ right to life.
As this case and the decision illustrate, there is no excuse for failures to promptly and effectively enforce protection orders, especially after repeated pleas to the police.
In its decision, the IACHR reaffirmed that the state has a duty to address violence against women and girls, a position long-argued by Amnesty International.
Domestic Violence is a violation of a woman’s rights to physical integrity, liberty, and all too often, her right to life itself. What’s more, domestic violence can threaten the rights and lives of children in the home as well.
The US government should do more to address its systematic failure to protect women and children from domestic violence, in line with its national and international human rights obligations.