UN rights expert condemns US domestic violence laws

[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women [official website] Rashida Manjoo [official profile] called Tuesday on the US government to reevaluate its domestic violence policies [press release]. The request comes in response to a report [text, DOC; press release] published by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] last week attributing to the US government human rights violations against Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales), who was a victim of her husband's domestic abuse. Lenahan's former husband killed their three daughters, despite a restraining order and Lenahan's repeated efforts to contact law enforcement officers. In an effort to prevent similar domestic hostility, Manjoo urged the US government to reexamine laws currently in place:

Violence against women is the most pervasive human rights violation which continues to challenge every country in the world, and the US is no exception. The US Government should reassess existing mechanisms for protecting victims and punishing offenders, and establish meaningful standards for enforcement of protection orders and impose consequences for a failure to enforce them.
Manjoo also made recommendations for crafting and implementing new legislation, emphasizing that women are affected differently by domestic violence particularly with respect to their social, economic and cultural positions. Furthermore, she said, "structural and institutional discrimination perpetuate and exacerbate women's experiences of abuse."

Domestic violence laws created in response to Lenahan's circumstances have faced challenges. The California Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in November 2008 that the residency requirements associated with Proposition 83 [DAPO backgrounder] amount to additional punishment for sex offenders [JURIST report]. Proposition 83, or Jessica's Law, prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school or park where children regularly gather. Californians voted in favor of Proposition 83 in November 2006. The law faced an immediate legal challenge [JURIST report] from unidentified registered sex offenders, and a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order [JURIST report] to prevent the enforcement of the law's residency requirements, pending a ruling on the merits. In February 2007, a federal district judge barred the law [JURIST report] from applying retroactively. By September 2007 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [official website] had notified [JURIST report] the 2,741 paroled sex offenders in the state that they were required to move under the Proposition 83 requirements. The US Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] in May 2005 that Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the restraining order in place against her husband and that police officers are immune [JURIST report] from suits based on how they enforce restraining orders.

 

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