What Would You Tell a Victim of Domestic Violence?

Women, girls, men and boys take to the streets in Nicaragua on the Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean (Photo Credit: Grace Gonzalez for Amnesty International).

Women, girls, men and boys take to the streets in Nicaragua on the Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean (Photo Credit: Grace Gonzalez for Amnesty International).

What if she was your mother, your sister, or your friend?  Would you tell her to press charges? Or would you tell her she should work things out with her husband in order to keep the family (including any children) together? In other words, would you want her to be safe, or remain in danger of further abuse and even death?  I hope you would tell her to get out of there and call the police.

In Nicaragua, however, pressing charges may no longer be an option. Last year, Nicaragua passed Law 779, the Integral Law against Violence Against Women. One of its key provisions is that it does not allow mediation to replace criminal punishment of abusers. Tracy Robinson, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur for Women’s Rights, called the law “an important step forward.”

Now, Amnesty International is warning that opponents of Law 779 may overturn this key provision on the ground that it “breaks up families” - as if growing up in a climate of violence is good for children. They want to allow mediation as an alternative to punishment in cases involving less than five years of jail time. Doing so will only contribute to a climate of impunity that tells abusive partners that their behavior is acceptable.

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The Indefensible Demise of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

women protest violence against women

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

As the clock counted down the few remaining minutes of the 112th Congress, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) failed to reach the finish line in a politically and ideologically divided Congress. Since 1994, VAWA has ensured that millions of women who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support that they need through legal and social services.  After 18 years of bipartisan support, Congress’s failure to reauthorize VAWA is an outrageous and indefensible roadblock to the goal of ending violence against women and fulfilling the right of all women to live lives free of intimidation and violence.

Inexcusably, House Republican leaders’ opposition to full inclusion of all at-risk communities eventually doomed the legislation.  Congress’s inability to act means that millions of women and men will be left without access to some of the critical resources and protections contained in VAWA reauthorization.

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Alleged Murderer of Kashmir Human Rights Lawyer Kills Family in California

Retired Indian Army Major Avtar Singh, wanted for the murder of human rights activist Jalil Andrabi, shot and killed at least three members of his family before turning the gun on himself outside of Fresno, California on June 9th.

He was arrested in 2011 for alleged domestic violence incident where he was accused of choking of wife. He was then released from custody mainly because the Indian government could not be bothered to seek his extradition despite being wanted for murder charges in Jammu and Kashmir.

The head of the Kashmir Commission of Jurists, Jalil Andrabi was killed at the height of protests in Kashmir against Indian rule in the disputed region. Andrabi disappeared in March 1996 in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir. His body was recovered 19 days later in the Jhelum River. He had been shot in the head, and his eyes were gouged out.

A police investigation blamed Maj. Singh and his men for that killing and also accused Maj. Singh of involvement in the killings of six other Kashmiri men.

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Violence Against Armenian Women is a Crime, Not a Tradition

Armenian woman protests

Will Armenia step up protections for women? (Photo KAREN MINASYAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The smallest yet probably oldest of the successive Soviet nations, Armenia prides itself for its ancient traditions. In his International Women’s Day statement, President Serge Sarkissian wishes women “happiness, luck, and healthy and strong families,” commending the preservation of women’s “traditional role.”

Does the latter include being a victim of violence? The Armenian government’s very poor record on combating widespread violence against women may suggest so.

Armenia is the only country among its Council of Europe neighbors without legislation criminalizing domestic violence. Armenia’s government has been arguing that it will pass comprehensive legislation once the Council of Europe finalizes its convention on the issue. It’s been nearly a year since the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence opened for signatures, yet Armenia hasn’t ratified it (see the interactive map of countries that have).

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Failing to Protect Women from Domestic Violence in the US

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.

Jessica Lenahan domestic violence women

Jessica Lenahan has become an activist for ending violence against women © Private

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.

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Violence Against Women Is A U.S. Problem, Too

© STR/AFP/Getty Images

In preparation for the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, recently released a report on her 2011 mission—conducted at the invitation of the U.S. Government—to the United States. This was the first visit of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women since 1998, and her findings suggest both progress and a call to action.

The report affirms that women in the United States experience violence. No surprise there, but it is a clear indication that violence against women (VAW) knows no national, political, ethnic, religious, or socio-economic boundaries; it happens here, it happens everywhere.

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UPDATE to An Ongoing Cycle of Violence

The cycle has ended, at least in this case.  Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen today commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens who had been scheduled for execution on September 28.  She was sentenced to death for soliciting the murder of her husband, but her case garnered widespread publicity because of severe abuse she had endured at his hands.

Governor Bredesen cited similar cases as his reason for granting clemency, stating:

As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Gaile Owens could be eligible for parole as early as 2012.

An Ongoing Cycle of Violence

On September 28, 2010, Gaile Owens, a 57-year old mother and grandmother, is set to be executed in Tennessee – she would be the first woman executed since 1820 in the state. She was convicted of soliciting the murder of her husband, Ronald Owens, more than 24 years ago. But since the conclusion of the trial, evidence has emerged that Gaile Owens endured severe abuse at the hands of her husband, and may have been suffering from “Battered Women’s Syndrome.”  

When Owens was arrested in 1985, she was appointed a lawyer who helped out at the beginning of the case but soon had to withdraw, leaving Owens with two other attorneys. The first lawyer though, signed an affidavit in 2009 recalling Owens’ state of mind the day after the arrest:

[Gaile was] extraordinarily remorseful for hiring someone to kill her husband. But her most immediate and profound concern was the well-being of her children. Ms. Owens was clear – she wanted to plead guilty and avoid a trial because she didn’t want to put her children and the rest of her family through any more pain…Ms. Owens was also immediately forthcoming with me regarding her motivations for hiring someone to kill her husband – her husband was abusive and cheated on her regularly. Based on the information she provided, I immediately recognized that the defense in this case should be that Ms. Owens suffered from battered women’s syndrome. Based on that, I believe this case should never have been a death penalty case.

Gaile Owens did indeed agree to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but was not allowed to do so because Sidney Porterfield, the man she hired, did not accept the agreement. Both were sentenced to death.

Gaile Owens has received support of organizations such as the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women and the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. They have called for her sentence to be commuted because:

Gaile Owens was a victim of serious abuse at the hands of her husband, including brutal sexual assaults… As organizations that work with victims of abuse, we are particularly appalled by the inadequate investigation and presentation of Ms. Owens’ psychosocial history by her trial attorney, and throughout the case. Ms. Owens was not examined by professionals with the expertise the case required, nor was relevant information presented (at all or as fully as needed) about the abuse she experienced over lifetime.

Putting Gaile Owens to death would do nothing now but make the state and people of Tennessee active participants in an ongoing cycle of violence.  If ever there was a text book case for a Governor to grant clemency and commute a death sentence, this is it.