Gender-Based Violence Has No Place in New York City

It is time for New York City to pass a resolution recognizing gender-motivated violence, such as domestic and sexual violence, as a human rights concern and declaring that freedom from gender-motivated violence is a human right.
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Jessica could have been your neighbor. She had three children. She balanced working and taking care of them with her husband, Simon. Slowly, Simon began to insert into their relationship a pattern of abuse. He tried to control her; he tried to limit her interactions with others; and he repeatedly threatened to harm the children. Jessica was scared for herself and her girls.

When Jessica decided to apply for a restraining order, a judge agreed that Simon was a danger to Jessica and her children, and ordered that Simon stay away from Jessica, the girls, and her home. In violation of the restraining order, Simon came to Jessica's home and snatched her three girls from the front yard. Jessica immediately and repeatedly called the police. The police told Jessica that she was being ridiculous and the girls were probably fine with their father. Instead of receiving protection from the police department, Jessica's three girls were found shot to death in the back of their father's truck.

Jessica brought a case against the police department that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005), the Court found that the police were not obligated to protect Jessica and her girls because enforcement of the restraining order was not mandatory and did not create an individual right to due process under the Constitution. In other words, the police officers had the discretion to act the way they did.

Though few cases have received such high court attention, Jessica's underlying story of abuse is not unique. In 2013, the New York City police department responded to an average of 765 domestic incidence reports a day. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States will be raped, subjected to physical violence, and/or stalked by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Our committees include members that represent hundreds of men and women, and girls and boys, throughout the city who suffer from gender-based violence each day. They are not all married to professional athletes or performers. They are your neighbors, your co-workers, your sisters and brothers.

All people deserve to live a life free of gender-based violence, free from sexual and domestic violence. While the U.S. government has taken steps to address this problem, such as passage and reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, it has not gone far enough. Three years ago, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("IACHR") decried the U.S. government's failure to keep its citizens safe from gender-based violence, and outlined steps the federal and state governments could take to protect this human right. Last month, the IACHR heard testimony on the progress of those recommendations. Unfortunately, the report is bleak and little has changed on the federal level.

Consequently, local governments can and are rising to the challenge by striving for all their citizens to live free from gender-based violence and its myriad consequences. Cities around the country, including Albany and Boston, have learned from Jessica's story and passed resolutions that proclaim that gender-based violence is a human rights violation. These resolutions are grounded in the knowledge that a victim of gender-based violence can come into contact with multiple government agencies over time, addressing a variety of needs related to public safety, housing, employment and social welfare. These resolutions stand for the notion that the policies that guide these agencies -- and the individuals who work there -- should be aware that they are on the front lines of the fight against gender-based violence. Why? Because in many cases such violence is the motivating factor that brought someone to government services, and that violence needs to be addressed and prioritized as part of any long-term solution.

A recent article in the Times reveals telling statistics on domestic violence and its consequences: more than a quarter of all families in shelters cite abuse as the cause of their stay; 70% of the increase in public housing crime in the last three years is attributed to domestic violence; and citywide, domestic violence accounts for 40% of all felony assaults and 34% of rapes. As aptly described by Rosemonde Pierre-Louis, Commissioner of the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, "It's important for people to understand how domestic violence is touching every part of this city."

It is time for New York City to pass a resolution recognizing gender-motivated violence, such as domestic and sexual violence, as a human rights concern and declaring that freedom from gender-motivated violence is a fundamental human right. Such a resolution will give the city the impetus to coordinate responses to gender-based violence in a manner that all city agencies can adopt, as both a singular and a collective goal. It also sends a strong message that domestic and sexual violence are not an acceptable part of the great city where we live, and that we should do everything we can to protect people like Jessica and her children.

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