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Some Priorities for Obama’s New Violence Against Women Advisor

Selene Kaye,
Director, Liberty Division,
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July 1, 2009

Last Friday Vice President Biden announced the appointment of Lynn Rosenthal as the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, the first time such a position has existed. We welcome the high-level attention this will bring to violence against women, one of the most critical women’s right issues of our day, and the appointment of such an effective and experienced women’s advocate.

Ms. Rosenthal has been a powerful advocate for housing and economic justice for survivors of violence, two of the most important factors in women’s ability to escape violent situations. As an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times lays out,

Ms. Rosenthal’s challenge, and the administration’s, will be to improve the carrying out of existing laws intended to protect women, starting with better coordination of the activities of all the government bureaucracies involved, including the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In particular, we look forward to a new emphasis on HUD’s implementation of the Violence Against Women Act’s provisions protecting survivors from housing discrimination.

Ms. Rosenthal has also been a strong ally in efforts to hold police and government accountable for protecting women and children’s safety by enforcing court protective orders. We hope that she will be a force for implementing any recommendations that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will issue in the ACLU’s case, Jessica Gonzales v. USA.

More broadly, this appointment is an opportunity for the administration to look holistically at the issue of violence against women and how it intersects with poverty, racism, immigration status, substance abuse, homelessness, and other factors that make women and girls vulnerable to violence. It is also an opportunity for the administration to recognize the integral role that violence plays in women’s involvement in the criminal justice system.

We urge Ms. Rosenthal to move government response to the violence that women and girls experience away from a punitive one and in the direction of prevention, services, and empowerment.

To learn more about the ACLU’s work to combat violence against women, visit

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