Archive for the ‘violence’ Category

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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    Contributed by Maria Elena Perez, Director of Community Mobilization

    From KnowMoreSayMore.org:

    Carollee started dating a 32-year-old man when she was 19. Things went well at first and they began to sleep together. She was on birth control pills, however, she noticed that whole rows of pills would disappear. When Carollee called her boyfriend on the disappearing birth control, he responded that he “knew” she wanted to have his child. Carollee also noticed that he was sabotaging the condoms, but didn’t bring it up. Shortly after they got together, Carollee became pregnant and her boyfriend began to monitor and control her more carefully.

    Stories like these are not uncommon. I knew an immigrant woman who, every time she would enroll in English classes, would “all of a sudden” become pregnant. It’s not far fetched to think that her partner used pregnancy as a form of control. Previously, as a counselor for immigrant women survivors of violence, I bared witness to a lot of pain. And it was often that these women would speak about birth control sabotage, sexual coercion and rape, and forced abortions.

    As we’re nearing the end of October, Domestic Violence Awareness month, I want to bring your attention to the connection between reproductive health and violence against women. Violence limits women’s ability to manage their reproductive health and is linked to reproductive health issues like STD and HIV transmission and miscarriages. Considering that at least one in every three women around the world has been beaten, sexually coerced or otherwise abused during her lifetime,[1] we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the reproductive health issues of women facing violence. 


    The Family Violence Prevention Fund recently launched an initiative, kNOwMORE, looking at the intersection between reproductive health and violence against women. As part of the initiative, the Family Violence Prevention Fund and the Guttmacher Institute hosted a roundtable discussion in September, “The Intersection of Domestic Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health,” and you can listen to segments of that discussion here.


    And remember, by the time you finished reading this post; at least 4 women will have been abused by a partner across the United States.


    Contributed by Maria Elena Perez, Director of Community Mobilization

    [1] Heise, L., Ellsberg, M. and Gottemoeller, M. Ending Violence Against Women. Population Reports, Series L, No. 11., December 1999

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