More than 1,000 U.S. women are killed by their husbands, boyfriends or former partners each year. But that’s not the number we should pay attention to, according to the Trump administration. Americans, the administration suggests, should instead focus on a small subset of those crimes: the ones committed by immigrants.
That’s the argument behind a report ordered by President Donald Trump in March and released Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The report, which highlights crimes committed by immigrants, shines a new light “on acts of gender-based violence,” the White House said.
Trump, as part of his executive order blocking citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., tasked the government with collecting data on gender-based crimes committed by foreign nationals and releasing it to the public. But the report he commissioned doesn’t accurately describe the gender-based violence it focuses on. Instead, it offers misleading statistics that provide zero evidence that immigrants are any more likely than anyone else to commit crimes against U.S. women.
“The report does two things. First, it sensationalizes a very small percentage of gender-based violence cases to feed into the centuries-old fallacy of violence against women, the fallacy being that this happens only to white women by ‘the other,’” explained Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Secondly, it is also a severe marginalization of women of all backgrounds, classes, colors, and cultures who have endured (and continue to endure) suffering for being women by men of all backgrounds, classes, colors and cultures.”
Take the example of so-called honor killings, crimes in which women are murdered by relatives who claim the victims shamed the family name, which the report highlights. Globally, an estimated 5,000 “honor killings” occur each year, mainly concentrated in countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
As evidence of the prevalence of “honor killings” in the U.S., the report cites a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which “estimated that an average of 23-27 honor killings occur every year.” But those figures, according to the bureau’s study, are drawn from unpublished research that applied U.S. demographic characteristics to another country’s honor killing statistics ― a method the researcher himself called “not terribly scientific.”
Many “honor killings” look indistinguishable from what are usually called domestic violence homicides in the U.S. For instance, in 2015, nearly 1,100 women were killed in “honor killings” in Pakistan. One of the main causes of honor killings was domestic disputes, according to a report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. In the majority of the cases, the perpetrators were current or former spouses of the victims, just like in domestic killings in the U.S., and most women were killed with a gun, same as here.
It is unclear how Trump’s administration plans to track gender-based crimes committed by immigrants. Neither the Justice Department nor Homeland Security responded to HuffPost’s repeated requests for information over the course of six months.
On its face, tracking the crimes is daunting, as domestic violence, a form of gender-based violence, is extremely common in the U.S. The report acknowledges this difficulty, noting that there are an average of 1.3 million non-fatal domestic violence victimizations in the U.S. annually, and no way of knowing how many are perpetrated by foreign nationals, as most jurisdictions don’t note the immigration status of the offender in records of crimes.
The Justice Department is “committed to working with our law enforcement partners to determine the best way to report these statistics,” an official told HuffPost on Wednesday.
The Trump administration report also features a section on forced marriages that has come under fire from the organization that performed the research it cites. The report states that approximately “1,500 forced marriages occur every year” in the U.S. But Tahirih Justice Center, which collected the data, says the statistic is being presented incorrectly.
The nonprofit in 2011 surveyed legal and social services providers about their clients in the previous two years, and counted 3,000 cases of forced marriages. A 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics study cut this figure in half to come up with an estimate of 1,500 cases of forced marriages per year. That’s inaccurate, Tahirih Justice Center says, because its research only tallied people who had experienced forced marriages ― but not when or where those marriages occurred. They could have taken place outside the two-year period of its study, or in places outside the U.S.
“It’s hypocritical for this administration to try to justify its restrictionist immigration policies by pointing to gender-based violence,” said Archi Pyati, chief of policy at Tahirih Justice Center. “In fact, the immigration policies of this administration are leaving immigrant victims more vulnerable.”
It’s important to gather data on the prevalence and motivations for violence against women and girls to ensure that adequate resources go to victim services and prevention, Pyatti added. “But it has to be inclusive, expansive, and approach the issue with one goal: to end violence against all women, not to vilify particular groups.”
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