Tag Archive | "domestic violence"

Domestic Violence in Tranational Spaces: The Horrific Reality of the Silent Epidemic


Imagine, you want to run away and the only burning thought you have in your brain is to escape. No, you are not in jail or prison, but you feel like you are. The door opens and he punches you. He put his hands around your neck so tightly you cannot breathe or scream. You are suffocating. Blood is spurting from your nose, oozing from your ears. You are trying not to black out because your kids are in another room. You are trying to make as little noise as possible. And you are feeling guilty… guilty that you are not good enough, you are a burden to him, the guilt that he planted in you. The sequence of attack comes in flashes. Tomorrow he will apologize. He will promise that it will never happen again. He will bring you a gift. Maybe flowers. It will be tomorrow… but today you are dying.


Photo Credit: Ayla, When a wealthy woman experiences domestic violence, Time for Equality; Image Courtesy: qualitystockphotos.com

Worldwide, domestic violence happens every nine seconds and has epidemic proportions. As you read this sentence, one person in the world suffers abuse from a current or former spouse or domestic partner. Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right. International law and policy on domestic violence has developed through United Nations treaties, conferences, customary international law, regional agreements, and domestic law. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Violence Against Women Act are all related to fight domestic violence.

This article will address the international community’s response to domestic violence as a human rights issue. Following this introduction, part II will discuss the United Nations’ response to domestic violence. Part III will discuss some of the actions sovereign states have taken to address domestic violence. Part IV will address some of the misconceptions surrounding domestic violence. Part V will conclude.

The United Nations’ Response to Domestic Violence

Since its creation in 1945, the United Nations have taken many steps to address domestic violence through the adoption of conventions and treaties. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) as the foundation of international human rights law and inspiration in achieving universal recognition that every person is free and equal in rights and dignity and free from domestic violence. The United Nations General Assembly later adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) in 1966 which provided the framework to preserve and protect civil and political rights, including the right to life and the right to equality. In 1984, the United Nations General Assembly established violence against women as “gender-based acts of torture within the scope” of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”). In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly directly addressed domestic violence in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (“DEVAW”). DEVAW defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty . . . occurring in . . . private life.” Despite the efforts of the United Nations, domestic violence still continues to plague societies all over the world. World Health Organization cites that about thirty-five percent of women worldwide were victims of either physical or sexual domestic violence in their lifetime. Thirty-eight percent of those women were killed by their abusers.

In some countries, domestic violence is deeply rooted in gender-based discrimination and gender inequality. For example, Pakistani’s authorities still continue to allow and rationalize the domestic violence. In February of 2016, Punjab, Pakistani’s most populated province, passed the Women’s Protection Act which aimed to support and protect women from domestic violence; however, it was met with local resistance and even declared un-Islamic by the country’s government advisory. In the rest of the country, women rights are still violated with impunity because of deeply-rooted misogyny of disempowerment of women in Pakistani society. Indeed, fifty-three percent of women in Pakistan “seemed permissive of domestic violence, particularly at the hands of a husband.” Similarly, in Russia, forty percent of all violent crimes are domestic violence and more than 14,000 of women per year die from it. In an attempt to solve the issue, State Duma amended Russian criminal code to declare domestic violence a criminal offence in July of 2016. Yet, a deputy in the State Duma and head of the committee on family, women, and children met the amendment with resistance and introduced a new bill to decriminalize a violence within families.

Domestic violence is also an issue within the United States. In the United States, one in three women and one in four men has been a victim of physical violence by their intimate partner. Nearly twenty people per minute become victims of domestic violence in the United States. Every three seconds one person is assaulted or beaten by their intimate partner, three women per day die from that domestic abuse in the United States. Indeed, during eleven-year time frame, the number of women who were killed by their intimate partner in United States added up to nearly double of the number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same time frame. The FBI even estimates that domestic violence “will occur during the course of two-thirds of all marriages.”

United Nations Response to Cultural Norms

The United Nations have also attempted to address the cultural norms that fuel domestic violence in many countries. In 1966, the General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”). Article 3 of the ICESCR specifically protects equal right of people to the enjoyment of social, economic, and cultural rights. The ICESCR attempts to address domestic violence by protecting equal right of people to cultural rights. Yet cultural norms fuels domestic violence in many countries and in a disturbing way. For instance, commercializing and arranging marriages lock victims into abusive marriages. In Uganda, and many other African nations, a “bride price” – goats, cows, banana wine, dresses, meat, vegetables, paraffin, and cash that the fiancée’s family receives from the groom – contributes to husbands viewing their wives as a property or a financial asset. Moreover, victims rarely report abuse because of fear and even when they ask for help, they often do not receive it. As many as eighty-four percent of Ugandans believe that the bride price and domestic violence have a direct connection. In June of 2014, Eastern Ugandan district of Butaleja passed a law making it a crime to demand bride price, yet across the nation the bride price is still a cultural requirement, a custom that is deeply entrenched in people’s minds.

India has the opposite custom, a “dowry,” – cash, jewelry, goods, cars, or property that the fiancée’s family gives to the groom. Like the bride price, the dowry has a direct connection to domestic violence. After the wedding, the husbands, who received the dowry, perceive their wives as “disposable,” “exploitable,” many of the wives experience emotional, physical, financial, and sexual abuse, they are forced to become domestic servants for their in-laws, as a punishment for insufficient dowry, imprisoned in their new “family” home. Even though Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 prohibits dowry, many Indian families still practice dowry as their cultural tradition, believing that otherwise their daughters would remain unmarried. As Chamathya Fernando, an activist against gender-based violence, said: “People sometimes try to put the blame on culture… or use culture as an excuse . . . but I don’t think any culture would say they harass women . . . , so I think it’s the culture of silence, the culture of ignorance and impunity.

How Domestic Violence is Addressed In Sovereign States

Countries have varied in the way domestic violence is addressed based on cultural, religious, and traditional views. For example, in Pakistan, a country ruled by misogynistic views, the Council of Islamic Ideology, in 2016, proposed a 163-point legislation that stated, “a husband may, when needed, lightly beat his wife.” The head of the Council of Islamic Ideology explained that “light beating” is only a routine, a guide on “how to bring a spouse back to ‘compliance.’” Similar in Russia, though the criminal code declares domestic violence a criminal offence, the government introduced a bill to decriminalize a violence within families.

In 1994, the United States Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) in 1994 which creates a special route for some battered non-citizens to obtain immigration status without involvement of their abuser. However, in order to get immigration status under VAWA, the survivor of domestic violence must be a spouse of an abusive United States citizen or permanent resident and the abuse must have occurred during the marriage in the United States. Yet, despite VAWA being adopted over 22 years ago, most immigrants have little knowledge of VAWA and those who live in domestic violence situation do not always have the courage to self-petition for legal status in the United States. Indeed, the abusers’ coercion over the victims’ immigration status is very convincing to the victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, applying for immigration status under VAWA is a time-consuming and often complex process.

Domestic violence often becomes a ground for discrimination in employment context, including denial of leave or other work arrangements to victims of domestic violence. Survivals of domestic violence need time to attend court, their legal and medical appointments, and counselling, they need time to organize their relocation to safe housing or make other safety arrangements. Nonetheless, it is very important for victims of domestic violence to remain in the workplace, especially during the time when they are leaving their abusers. The last thing the victims of domestic violence need when they are going through the toughest times of their lives is to also fight for recognition of their employment rights. Recognizing this problem, in 2015, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (“ACTU”) has lodged a claim with the Fair Work Commission for ten-days per year of paid leave for all Australian workers, including full-time, part-time, and even casual employees. After an employee exhausts this paid leave, ACTU proposal offers entitlement to a further two days of unpaid leave. This great initiative of the ACTU is a very important and promising social intervention; it sets up an example to other countries worldwide. Domestic violence leave entitlements would really help people experiencing domestic violence situation. Indeed, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland started offering domestic and family violence leave after ACTU proposal. However, Australian employers met ACTU proposal with great resistance. On December of 2016, Council of Australian Governments (“COAG”) put on hold the initiation of ACTU on national employment standards for domestic violence leave. COAG decided to wait for a Fair Work Commission’s decision on the issue.

Law enforcement, medical professionals, and courts often perceive people who claim domestic violence as hysterical, overdramatic, sometimes even liars because the survivors keep changing their stories, keep defending their abusers. Police often fails to investigate the allegations of the victims, denying them the only protection they would be able to obtain. It is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to recall attack in disjointed phrases. Survivors often cannot recall the sequence of events, whether they lost consciousness during the attack, and whether there was any evidence that can back up their accusations. Often the victims of domestic violence cannot back up their words by other witnesses due to specific nature of this crime. Indeed, isolating the victim from family and friends is a regular feature of domestic violence. Worldwide, abusers twist the victim’s accusations, spanning their spats, and making it seems like the victim had caused the problem or even that the victim was the abuser. In the United States, it is not uncommon for our legal system to arrest and charge the victim of domestic violence, mistakenly designating the victim as a perpetrator because the real perpetrator successfully manipulates the system and his victim.

It is heartbreaking to think that domestic violence is so common in a daily life of many people worldwide. Indeed, in Morocco, where domestic violence is not a crime, Moroccan state TV channel even translated a video tutorial on how to cover domestic violence bruises with makeup. It is speechless that someone created a video on how to cover the bruises and scars of domestic abuse.

Misconceptions About Domestic Violence

Many people, who have never experienced domestic violence on their own, often hold many misconceptions about victims of domestic violence. Thinking of a domestic violence victim, people usually “think of someone who’s poor, who’s uneducated, who doesn’t have resources.” Yet, while for some victims it may be true, for many others it is not the case. Domestic violence cuts across all geographic, racial, ethnic, and class lines, it includes wealthy and indigenous, older and young, people with disabilities, and LGBT members. People also usually think that only women can be a victim of domestic violence. Yet domestic violence happens to everyone, regardless of gender, and men too often become victims of domestic violence. Nonetheless, statistics and authorities often overlook male victims. Actually, many men do not even admit that they are abused because of embarrassment, shame, and traditional views. As Shazia Qayum of Karma Nirvana, an organization which supports victims of honor based abuse and forced marriage, states: “Men choose to suffer in silence for the sake of respect.”

There are many reasons why someone stays in abusive relationships. It is too easy for someone who never experienced domestic violence to advise the victim to leave, to run away. Someone who never experienced domestic violence cannot judge people who choose to stay with abusers. The victims of domestic violence usually feel embarrassed about the abuse that happens to them, they are afraid to be blamed by others or not taken seriously, afraid that the abuse will get worse when their abuser founds out that the victim told someone about it. The victims are afraid of losing their children because their abusers will manipulate a family court system, afraid about their financial future and the future of their children. Many of the victims also live in constant and fearful denial of their situation, pretending to live in a happy home and even their neighbors usually say they look as normal family. Many of the victims also believe that their abusers will change. Some of the victims have religious reasons for staying in abusive relationships; some are afraid of social stigma. Some of the victims have immigration reasons, living in a mix of constant fear of their assailants and deportation if they report their abuser to the police, making them easy target of domestic violence epidemic.

Many say that educating people on domestic violence will minimize the damage. Yet the education is not all we need. We also need to reconsider our view about the victims of domestic violence, to eliminate our misconceptions, and not to judge. On one extreme end of domestic violence range are wealthy, educated victims in prosperous communities, who keep staying with their violent partners because of potent mix of social stigma, money, and power. “Golden handcuffs” – it’s how this type of domestic violence called in Australia. In fact, as another common feature of domestic violence, many abusers rob their victims of financial independence. In addition, many of wealthy victims are rightfully fearing for their lives because wealthy abusers often feel “above the law” and, unfortunately, very often these abusers “do get away with whatever they choose to do to their victims.” To these wealthy and educated victims education about their rights is not going to make a difference, they know their rights and they are making their “choice.” No one should judge them.

Even though domestic violence does not always leave its victims with visible scars, it changes the lives of its victims forever. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic abuse is linked with a higher rate of suicidal behavior and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty to trust others, and low self-esteem. Domestic violence hunts its survivors even after they leave their abusive relationships.


Domestic violence is not the problem that will go away any time soon. This is an insidious problem, the problem that can affect your sister, your daughter, your son right now. This is the silent epidemic that needs all of us to act. Despite countless human’s rights victories and the tremendous efforts by variety of non-government organizations and lawyers, the issue of domestic violence still has an urgent need for legal representation of its survivors and help in addressing its multiple collateral issues. In many countries, there is also an urgent need to finally enact legislation that would protect domestic violence victims. The road ahead of us is a long one, but it worse every step if we can save one life, one tear of a victim of domestic violence.

Ilona Starchak is a graduated law student from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, the Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy and the Denver Criminal Law Review, and a domestic violence survivor.

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Comparing the United States to Other O.A.S. Members in Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jorge Saenz

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jorge Saenz

In my forthcoming Note, titled Filling the Gap of Domestic Violence Protection: Returning Human Rights to U.S. Victims[1] I argue that “[b]y failing to hold states accountable for enforcing mechanisms of DV protection, the U.S. federal government fails to satisfy its responsibility assumed by the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man (“American Declaration”), thereby violating U.S. citizens’ human rights.” [2]  A topic of discussion in this Note is the United States’ position as a leader on the world stage and a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization of thirty-five member nations [3] that aims to “ ‘strengthen the civic conscience of the American peoples’ for the purpose of the effective exercise of democracy, the observance of the rights of men, and greater integration.”

Expanding from the Note’s focus on how the United States can improve, let us look further into how the United States compares to its OAS compatriots.  In Argentina, 275 women lost their lives this year as a result of gender-based violence. This summer, thousands marched in Buenos Aires in a movement against domestic violence.  Argentina’s population is approximately 44 million, resulting in a rate of 6.25 gender-motivated murders per 1,000,000.  By contrast, “[m]ore than 1,600 women were murdered by men in 2013” in the United States when the population was approximately 318 million, resulting in a rate of 5.03 gender-motivated murders per 1,000,000.

By contrast, domestic violence incidents in Costa Rica were on the rise in 2012, amounting to 222 incidents reported per day. With a population of 4.1 million, that amounts to 55.5 incidents per 1,000,000.  By contrast, in the United States, 20,000 calls are made per day to domestic violence hotlines, [4] amounting to approximately 69 incidents per 1,000,000.

Overall, state sovereignty is a roadblock to national governments that have agreed to work towards international goals but are unwilling to undermine their control over their domain— the United States included. [5]  As I argue in Filling the Gap, domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic that should be curbed, especially by the countries that have agreed to respect human rights by signing the Charter of the OAS.  The United States has an opportunity to set the international tone and heighten protection within its borders.

Melanie graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Florida State University Law Review in May 2016. In law school, she served as an Executive Editor on the Florida State University Law Review and a Governor on the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Law Student Division and has several pieces published focusing on constitutional law, specifically individual rights, and family law, specifically child custody and domestic violence. Her long-term career goals include becoming a law professor.


[1] Melanie Kalmanson, Note, Filling the Gap of Domestic Violence Protection: Returning Human Rights to U.S. Victims, 43 Fla. St. U.L. Rev. (forthcoming 2016).

[2] Id. at Introduction.

[3] The members of the OAS are: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guayana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts & Nevis, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[4] Kalmanson, supra note 1, at Introduction.

[5] See, e.g., http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1674&context=auilr, at p.4.


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Women in Italy

Critical Analysis: Italy Responding to Domestic Abuse

Earlier this month Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta announced new harsh measures to respond to the persistent problem of domestic violence.  He calls this problem “femicide” which is the “killing of women because they are women, often at the hands of current or former husbands or boyfriends.”  The new measures, which are effective immediately, set stricter penalties for perpetrators of these types of crimes and expands the protection for women.  Prime Minister Letta said that the 12-point decree was “a sign of radical change on the issue” and he felt it was necessary to send a strong signal of change through the country.

Women in Italy

A rise in acid attacks prompted demonstrations in Italy (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Recently, Italy has been making headlines regarding violence against women, primarily women who are murdered or attacked by current or past significant others.  The United Nations has flagged this as a problem in Italy where gender stereotypes are deeply rooted and a third of all women face sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes.  Last year, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said that Italy’s laws were fragmented, provided inadequate sanctions, lacked aid for victims, and that trials took too long and then failed due to Italy’s statute of limitations.  Manjoo wrote that,  “These factors contribute to the silencing and invisibility surrounding violence against women, its causes and consequences.

Various reports by European agencies and the United Nations underscore the failure of Italy to protect women from their current and past partners.  There are few shelters for battered women to go.  The Council of Europe advises that a country should have one shelter spot for women and children for every 10,000 residents.  By this standard Italy should have 5,700 shelter spots, but it has just 500.  Furthermore, Italian domestic abuse workers say that there is also a shortage in legal, medical, psychological, and financial assistance for battered women attempting to leave abusive relationships.

Earlier this month in Genoa, a man threw acid into the face of a woman.  Investigators suspect it was a crime of passion.  This is the fifth such attack in Italy this year.  In July, a 38 year-old waitress was shot in the chest by her husband when he was in a jealous rage.  In May, a 16-year old girl was stabbed 20 times in the chest by her boyfriend, he then fatally set her on fire.  In Italy between 2000 and 2012, more than 2,200 women have been murdered in similar circumstances.  Statistically, for over a decade a woman has been murdered by her lover every two days.

Prime Minister Letta’s new 12-point decree is a step in the right direction, though it will not help the 81 women killed since the beginning of 2013, 75 percent of which were committed by significant others.  While the new laws will not help these women, hopefully it will protect women going forward and work to uproot the deep seeded gender stereotypes in Italy.

Sarah Emery is a 3L and the Executive Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.



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Asma al-Assad

A Co-Conspirator or a Casualty? A Second Look at Asma, wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

She doesn’t have bruises. She adorns photos and televisions with a near-perfect, pearly-white smile and a haircut fit for a queen. She’s a first lady who’s chic and fashionable. She laughs and jokes with gusto—even stating once that she was the “real” dictator of the family, and not her husband.

But once a friendly face to the West, she’s mostly been in hiding since the start of the Syrian Uprising in March of 2011. Rumor has it that she’s now pregnant with Bashar al-Assad’s fourth child. Media around the world have speculated her silence, questioning why she, a native-born Briton with Syrian roots, continues to stand by a man of sheer tyranny. What’s more, she’s been heavily criticized for her online shopping sprees while EU and other international sanctions prevent her from visiting her favorite boutiques in person. Her brief, public cameo at a charity event supporting children of government soldiers killed in the conflict in March was a source of complete media uproar.

Asma al-Assad

Asma al-Assad: Victim or Villain?

It’s easy to see Asma al-Assad as a self-involved, pretentious woman who cares little for her Syrian people.  To some, she may even be even a co-conspirator in her husband’s criminal enterprise. Many first ladies are often seen this way when their husbands involve themselves in bloody uprisings–a great and recent example being Grace Mugabe, the wife of Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe. And perhaps there is nothing more to Asma than complicity in mass murder. But it is also possible that Asma, as well as other, lesser-known ladies like Ri Sol-ju (wife of Kim Jong-Un), are actually the world’s most transparent, and most tragic, victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence—also called domestic abuse, battering, or intimate partner violence—occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. And although men are sometimes abused by partners, domestic violence is most often directed toward women. For women of Asma’s caliber, tell-tale signs of domestic abuse between herself and Bashar al-Assad won’t be so easily detectable because of her husband’s sheer level of power. Furthermore, Asma represents a country where a quarter of married women reported experiencing some level of physical abuse by their husbands. She is not only politically isolated, but also culturally and perhaps religiously.

Asma may, in fact, be a purloined letter in the eyes of the media, government officials, and also the average person following the Syrian crisis.

It’s no secret that Bashar is no peacekeeper. He is quite the opposite: United Nations investigations into his involvement in the commissions of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide are set for referral to the International Criminal Court—so it is not so far-fetched to consider that such a man would also be less-than-kind to his own wife. In this aptly political affair, Asma faces a different level of abuse. Given the notoriety of her husband and the current state of the Syrian government, much of the mental and psychological abuse would stem from fear of being killed should she align herself anywhere but behind her husband. He may not physically abuse her, but less-obvious types of abuse may be occurring behind closed doors and away from the eyes and ears of the media or state governments.

He is most certainly doing one of more of the following, either intentionally or by virtue of his power: monitoring her movements, preventing or discouraging her from seeing friends of family, controlling how she spends money, and instilling a sense of fear or authority over her simply through his prominent and voluntary involvement in the brutal oppression, torture, and killing of Syrian civilians–including children. He may also be doing any or all of the following behind closed doors: unfairly accusing her of being unfaithful, getting angry with her in a way that is frightening to her, threatening to hurt her or the people she cares about, or threatening to harm himself or herself when he is upset. In fact, shortly before the start of the Uprising, Asma admitted to Vogue that her husband never wears his wedding ring.

Asma’s seemingly cheerful and supportive image is not incompatible with signs of a woman in an abusive relationship. She may believe that an abusive relationship with her husband is normal and continue to support him out of denial. Given her unique situation as a first lady, she also may believe she has no outlets or ways to escape without certain death or injury to herself or her children. Asma is also surrounded by a network of family that is heavily entrenched in the political and social underpinnings of Syrian affairs. It is highly likely, if impossible, that she would not receive any sort of physical or moral support from family if she decided to leave Bashar.

It’s also impossible to know if a woman involved in such an intricate political network will ever have a chance to speak candidly about her relationship with her husband.

For now, we may only have e-mail exchanges between Asma and Bashar to understand their relationship—exchanges filled with fleeting bouts of flirtation and electronic laughter. But before the media jumps to conclusions that a first lady like Asma is nothing but the supportive wife of a tyrant, it is important to take a step back and realize that such a woman can also be a victim of the most abusive of partners.

Maha Kamal is a third year law student at the University of Denver and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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