The Supreme Court has a very mixed track record when it comes to protecting women. As a domestic violence advocate, Criminologist, and activist for a decade, I am deeply concerned that the U.S still fails to prioritize women’s safety. Given that globally more women ages 15-45 die from men’s violence than of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined, far more needs to be done to protect women and girls. The courts can and should play a far bigger role in doing so.
In 2000, the court overturned part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allowed women to sue their abusers in federal court. So, we can sue darn near anyone for anything, just not the people who hurt us most deeply. In 2005, the court ruled in Castle Rock v. Gonzales that a town and its police cannot be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order. Jessica Gonzales, now Lenahan, had a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking and harassing her. Simon was prohibited from seeing her son (not his biologically) and the couple’s three daughters except during specified visitation times. Simon violated that order by taking the three girls on June 22, 1999 around 5:15 p.m. Jessica first called the police about two hours later, then proceeded to call multiple times and visit the station in person over the next several hours. The police took no action, even though Simon had called Jessica admitting he had the girls at an amusement park in Denver. At approximately 3:20 a.m., Simon showed up at the Castle Rock police station and engaged in a shoot-out with police that left him dead. The police then noticed the bodies of the three girls in his vehicle. The court held 7-2 that the Colorado statute did not require that police actually enforce restraining orders.
What?! Absolutely insane.
Gonzales and her attorneys took the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which ruled that the Supreme Court had erred and that the U.S was violating Gonzales’ human rights through this decision. The IACHR cited international human rights treaties and agreements that urge states to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of violence against women and to address shortcomings in legislation that fail to protect women.