Archive for the ‘violence’ Category

Yesterday courageous undocumented students risked deportation when they were arrested in Chicago for protesting Secure Communities.  The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), stands with these activists and alongside other organizations nationwide that are calling on the Administration to end the controversial immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, better known as S-Comm.  If there ever was a time to advocate for the importance of safe communities, the time is now!

How does S-Comm work?

Under S-Comm when an individual is arrested, his/her fingerprints are sent to federal immigration databases. If the arrestee’s fingerprints match a record indicating an immigration violation, ICE and local law enforcement are notified.  In most cases, ICE issues a detainer requesting that the jail facility hold the individual up to an extra 48 hours, interviews the arrestee, and decides whether to seek removal of that individual.[1]

Women, communities at risk

While the phrase secure communities inarguably means protecting and keeping communities safe, when it comes to immigrants, our government is doing everything but that.  Not only does S-Comm put immigrant women, their families, and their communities in danger, it perpetuates fear in survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.  This program also threatens the progress that our country has made in the last three decades to bring violence against women out from behind closed doors by making women afraid to call the police for help, for fear of arrest and deportation if they are undocumented.

This threat has become even more vivid to women and their families recently.  In the past several months, some localities have announced that they would no longer participate in the program and would not maintain contracts for the program with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) because it was hindering their ability to keep their communities safe.  On August 5th, DHS announced that it was going to implement the program whether or not they had a contract with local police authorities.  DHS said it will terminate all contracts with states and localities and proceed without contracts in further implementing the program nationwide, despite calls for the agency to suspend the program.  States will no longer have the option to implement the program, they will have to submit to the demands of the federal government.  Still, the administration insists that S-Comm keeps communities safe, but the truth of the matter is that it does not.

Protecting and serving communities, stymied

S-Comm has had a significant impact on community policing strategies because it undermines local law enforcement’s commitment to keeping communities safe.  Enforcement-only policies create an atmosphere of fear, which threatens the trust of the community.  This only makes it harder to capture criminals.

Economic Impact

Another reason states and municipalities oppose this decision is because states will be required to fully implement this program with no assistance from the federal government.  Clearly, this places a financial burden on already stretched local and state resources to the limit fighting local crime, with no incentives to local communities.  Many states are already struggling to hold on to precious resources that are sustaining important programs and services for communities that so vitally need them.

What is being done? What can you do?

Earlier this month, NLIRH, alongside 60 local and national organizations launched our Second Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice to bring to light the stark reality that hard working women and families are faced with everyday in their rather unsafe communities.  We also applaud the authoritative report by he National Day Labor Organizing Network entitled, Restoring Community: A National Community Advisory Report on ICE’s failed “Secure Communities” Program that uses facts about the program to cut away at rhetoric.  And as we saw yesterday in Chicago, a nationwide effort has been under way this week to put pressure on the Administration to stop this program.  We urge you to take action too.

At NLIRH, we could not think of a program that is more unfair to communities and intrusive of basic human rights.

[1] Center for Reproductive Rights. Briefing Paper: Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A Critical Human Rights Analysis. New York City, NY: Center for Reproductive Rights;2010:26. Available at: http://reproductiverights.org/en/document/reproductive-rights-violations-as-torture. Accessed on August 4, 2011.

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By Hilarie Myers, Communications and Development Intern

The nation is still reeling in the aftermath of last Saturday’s shooting rampage in Tucson, which left 6 people dead and 18 people, including Congresswomen Giffords (D, AZ-8), seriously injured.

The response of politicians, pundits, and other public figures has been varied, ranging from Sarah Palin’s highly criticized speech, in which she defended her own behavior and political rhetoric, to President Barack Obama’s well-received memorial address, in which he emphasized the need for civility and compassion.

The general public’s response to the shootings has also been divided: On one hand, the Community Food Bank of Tucson, Arizona, one of Rep. Giffords’s favorite charities, received over $18,000 in donations in the first seven hours after her husband referred to the organization in a statement on the shooting.  On the other hand, Timothy Williams of the New York Times reports that firearms sales in Arizona have drastically increased over the last few days, most likely due to fears that Saturday’s shootings will result in a push for stricter gun control laws.

In Congress, reactions to the events in Tucson have been just as varied, particularly on the subject of gun control.  Since the shooting, there has been a recent outpouring of support for stricter gun control laws, with a particular emphasis on the need to introduce legislation to ban extended-round ammunition clips, such as those used by shooter Jared Loughner in Tucson.


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The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) offers our deepest condolences and solidarity to the families and victims of the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8).

Congresswoman Giffords and 19 others were shot Saturday outside a Tucson grocery store during her first event in district after being sworn into her third term. Six people are confirmed dead and Giffords is fighting for her life.  Amongst those confirmed dead is Federal Judge John Roll, Rep. Gifford’s Director of Community Outreach, Gabe Zimmerman and a nine-year-old child.

We echo Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s remarks when he blamed the violence on the toxic political culture fueled by partisan media.

“We have become the Mecca of prejudice and bigotry,” he said after describing the shooter as an unbalanced person who could be easily influenced by vitriol spewed by pundits.

Giffords won another term in a narrow victory that reflected a tough campaign against the 29-year-old Marine Veteran Jesse Kelly (R).  Congresswoman Giffords stood by women’s rights and also approached immigration in a nuanced fashion. Because her district borders Mexico she was concerned about the impact of drug smuggling violence and therefore requested additional border security from both the Bush and Obama Administrations.  However, she also called for increased work visas and was a vocal opponent of SB1070, a state law that requires law enforcement to conduct racial profiling.

As a social justice organization NLIRH condemns all senseless violence, especially against women and children, as a threat to our democracy and freedom.

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A red umbrella (symbol of sex workers' rights) and text underneath saying "International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers"

Today is the seventh annual Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, and NLIRH would like to invite you to a free event we have co-sponsored with the Sex Workers’ Outreach Project of New York City and other fabulous organizations to commemorate the day.  Please join us to hear fabulous speakers, join a community speak-out, and remember those we have lost:


Metropolitan Community Church of New York

446 W 36th st (between 9th & 10th aves), New York, NY  10018

Ending violence against sex workers in particular, and sex workers’ rights in general, are matters of reproductive justice.  Some sex workers have specific health care needs that often go unmet because of the clandestine nature of their work, or the stigma faced at doctors’ offices; some are forced to work in unsuitable or unsafe conditions; and others work in environments where they are unable to organize for adequate wages.   Though much violence against sex workers is perpetuated by clients, it is important to recognize that the most common perpetrators of violence against sex workers are not clients at all, but governments:

Although the purported mission of governments who criminalize sex work is to abolish the industry, sometimes with overtones of rescue, in reality the laws punish sex workers and make their lives harder.

In fact, the criminalization of sex work disproportionately affects low-income women, women of color, immigrants and gender non-conforming persons, putting them at increased risk of deportation and violence within the criminal justice system.  And though much is said about women who are victims of sex trafficking, much less often is the issue of trafficking talked about as a matter of immigrant’s rights and global economic justice – the lack of which is the real problem behind all human trafficking.  Violence against sex workers is as much – if not more – about criminalization of sex work and oppression at the hands of the state as it is about violent clients.  The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is proud to support the rights and well-being of sex workers, and we hope you can join us at tonight’s event!

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Recently, U.S. immigration courts have accepted more asylum claims from women who are survivors of domestic violence in their home countries.  In a recent article in the Michigan Law Review, Jillian Blake proposes a definition of “battered women” that would delineate them as a particular social group so as to fit into this internationally accepted definition of a refugee:

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it . . . .

Blake explains that, until recently, gender-based violence could not fulfill the requirement that its survivors be members of a particular social group, because women comprise at least one-half of the world’s population.  This means that women could not seek refugee status in the U.S. simply by virtue of being survivors of domestic violence in their home countries. However the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently granted asylum to  a Mexican woman who feared that her former domestic partner would kill her if she returned to her home country.

If the DHS takes this new case as precedence, women who experience domestic violence in their home countries would be more successful in seeking asylum in the U.S.  The current Administration should be sure to take into account the social reality women face in their home countries and defend women most in need of international protection when finalizing its definition of a “battered woman.”

By Nicole Cata, Policy Intern

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By Lucy Panza, DC Policy Intern

Two professors from Penn State and Northeastern University, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, have released the findings of a three-year long study of the rate of sexual and other forms of victimization of Latinas.  The Sexual Assault Among Latinas (SALAS) Study sought to fill in the dearth of social science research on Latina victimization specifically.  Approximately 1% of the published literature that looks at interpersonal victimization focuses on Latinos, the authors said.  And in a nation that is 14% Latino as of 2004, that is unacceptable.  As the report states, the goals of SALAS were:

  • Determine extent of sexual victimization in a sample of adult Latino females.
  • Determine the coexistence of other forms of victimization among those sexually victimized and the risk for subsequent victimization.
  • Examine formal service utilization among sexually victimized Latino women.
  • Examine informal help-seeking among sexually victimized Latino women.
  • Examine culturally-relevant factors associated with experience and responses to sexual violence.
  • Determine the psychosocial impact of sexual victimization on Latino women.
  • 2,000 Latinas were interviewed on the phone by “[t]rained professionals from an experienced survey research firm … in either English or Spanish.”  The participants were selected from a randomized list of land-line phone numbers, and they were paid $10 for their participation.  Counselors followed up with any participants who suffered emotionally from the interviews, which asked questions from preexisting social science questionnaires that seek to measure various symptoms of victimization like depression or anxiety.  The interviewers also asked about whether the participants sought formal or informal help.


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    A recent study led by researchers at UC Davis explores the association between intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy. The study shows that young women often face efforts by their partners to coerce pregnancy or destroy contraception, and that these attempts at reproductive control are associated with other forms of intimate partner violence, increasing the risk of unintended pregnancy.

    In this study, “Pregnancy coercion, intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy,” published in the January issue of Contraception, researchers surveyed over 1300 English and Spanish-speaking women ages 16-29 who were seeking care at five family planning clinics in California. Researchers divided “reproductive control” into two broad areas: pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage. The results showed that an astounding number of surveyed women had experienced either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage.

    Approximately a third (35%, 237/683) of women reporting partner violence also reported either pregnancy coercion or birth control sabotage, in contrast to only 15% (91/595) of those who never reported violence reporting reproductive control of either form….The combined effect of both partner violence and reproductive control increased the odds of unintended pregnancy almost two-fold.

    While many pregnancy prevention efforts place the responsibility for unintended pregnancy on women, especially among teenagers, this study shows that these efforts are not only wrong, but dangerous. They ignore the possible role of of abusive partners in pregnancy.

    It also contradicts the popular notion that men are the sole victims of contraceptive sabotage. We often hear stories of women deliberately missing their pill or lying about using contraception entirely to coerce their partner into a more serious relationship due to pregnancy. Less commonly known or discussed is the fact that men also participate in birth control sabotage to manipulate their partners.

    The authors suggest a possible step forward: intervention programs provided by family planning clinics and harm reduction services for women affected by partner violence. Family planning clinics could be a great resource for women suffering domestic abuse if programs such as counseling services are offered.

    This study shows how important it is for all women to have access to emergency contraception, and a choice of contraceptive methods. Some women need injectable or intrauterine methods so that their partners cannot see or tamper with their contraception. The study also stresses the importance of confidentiality in reproductive health care, so that women can exercise their right to reproductive health without fearing coercion from their partners.

    By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern

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    In the last several years, rates of detention have soared. U.S. Immigration officials detain over 200,000 individuals and spend more than $600 million dollars on detention each year.

    A report released in 2004 by Just Detention International, a national human rights organization, entitled “No Refuge Here: A First Look at Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention,” calls attention to the troubling problem of sexual abuse in immigration detention centers in the United States.

    The report focuses on three central issues: (1) the considerable reported record of sexual abuse of detainees, (2) the lack of substantive policies and procedures in place to address such abuse, and (3) immigration officials’ refusal to allow independent monitoring of conditions for detainees. JDI calls on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to implement more detailed and comprehensive standards for the prevention and treatment of sexual assault in facilities that hold immigration detainees.

    Immigration officials have raped detainees and have abused their authority by exchanging goods and privileges for sex. Threats of violence and deportation have been used by immigration staff to coerce detainees into performing sex acts. Staff members have watched female detainees when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet and some regularly engage in verbal degradation and harassment of detainees. Detainees have also reported groping and other sexual abuse by staff during pat frisks and searches.

    The ramifications of sexual violence against women in immigration detention can be quite severe. Long-term consequences may include  post-traumatic stress disorder, self-hatred, substance abuse, depression, and suicide.

    Moreover, forced sex in detention facilities, where preventative methods are virtually nonexistent, intensify the threat of HIV exposure. In addition to this possibility of disease exposure that all rape victims experiences, females detainees have been impregnated as a result of staff sexual misconduct.

    In addition to difficulties speaking English, detainees often have difficulty speaking out when a tragedy as dehumanizing as sexual abuse strikes, especially in an unfamiliar culture within the walls of a formidable institution. Another barrier to addressing sexual abuse in detention is the fact that U.S. law does not give detainees the right to government-appointed counsel,  contributing to this population’s lack of contact with those who might advocate on their behalf. In fact, according to the report, 78% of immigrant detainees do not receive legal representation.

    Given the troubling record of abuse in immigration detention facilities, it is essential for the ICE to make substantive improvements to its polices in this area. Four years after the report was published, in 2008, ICE held over 310,000 people in custody, including adults, families, and unaccompanied minors. The explosive growth in rates of immigration detention has been accompanied by a worsening culture of secrecy at ICE, resulting in a climate is “ripe for sexual assault.”

    To read “No Refuge Here: A First Look at Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention,” click here. For more information on the problem of sexual abuse in U.S. Immigration Detention go here.

    By Ivette Sanchez, Policy and Advocacy Intern

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    As a counselor a few years ago, I remember the story of a young immigrant woman. Having been raped by her uncle repeatedly, she eventually wound up pregnant and he forced her to get an abortion. She recounted that he punched her in the face while in his parked car, as people passed by, outside the clinic when she refused to go inside.

    Indeed, lately there has been increasing awareness around sexual coercion and reproductive control, as a growing picture of violence against women. This week an article was published on AlterNet and the kNOw MORE campaign debuted last year.

    A growing number of studies, experts and young women themselves are testifying to boyfriends demanding unprotected sex, lying about “pulling out,” hiding or destroying birth control — flushing pills down the toilet, say — and preventing (or, in some cases, forcing) abortion.

    Such examples of violence, in the form of sexual coercion and reproductive control, result in reproductive health harms including STI’s, HIV/AIDS, unplanned pregnancies, and above all erodes women’s power to make decisions about their bodies and their reproductive health.

    As a movement, I think it’s important for us reproductive justice folks, to start paying more attention to this connection and give voice to what is already happening in our communities. We need to mobilize our communities to prevent gender based violence. Raising Voices in Uganda and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence here in the U.S. are both examples of organizations mobilizing communities against gender based violence. The time is now to unite to advance the movement to end violence against women!

    Maria Elena Perez, Director of Community Mobilization

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    One cannot escape the recent news of Chris Brown’s “domestic abuse” incident, which allegedly involves his partner Rihanna. However, a quick look at Chris Brown’s myspace page shows us that the victim blaming is well under way.

    The comments really show us that we have a long way to go as it relates to gender based violence. Victim blaming deflects the attention from the offender. What we should be asking is how can we hold offenders accountable for their actions? And accountability has to come from the community, the media, family and friends. Wrigley, upon hearing of the news, suspended its ad campaign, which featured Chris Brown. It will be interesting to see what angle the media will take and how other public figures will respond, as the details of the story keep unfolding. But, one thing is for sure, when we respond to intimate partner violence with victim blaming, we uphold such actions and behavior and play a role in the cycle and reproduction of violence.

    We must take a stand against violence against women in all its forms, from interpersonal violence to state violence, like harmful policies and government interventions that affect a woman’s ability to achieve freedom from violence and reproductive freedom.  Stopping the victim blaming and holding offenders accountable are first steps, but we also need to advocate for just and fair laws and practices for women.

    Contributed by Maria Elena Perez, Director of Community Mobilization

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