Blog of Rights

Protection From Domestic Violence Is a Human Right

By Jessica Lenahan at 9:44am

My name is Jessica Lenahan and I am a survivor of domestic violence. This afternoon 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 had 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 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.

To watch a live webcast of the hearing this afternoon at 3:15pm EDT, go to: www.oas.org/oaspage/live/OASlive.asp.

To learn more about my case and the process that led to my petition to the IACHR, go to: www.aclu.org/womensrights/violence/gonzalesvusa.html.

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