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U.S. Domestic Violence Case Heard by International Commission

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2011 | Domestic Violence

A Colorado woman received an order of protection against her estranged husband in 1999. She thereafter sought to have it enforced repeatedly, telling the Castle Rock police department that she feared for the safety of her three daughters.

The police failed to act, and later that year her husband kidnapped and murdered all three girls.

In the aftermath of that tragedy, Jessica Lenahan’s domestic violence case has become internationally known and an important case of first impression. The details are summarized immediately below.

Following the murder of her daughter, Lenahan sued the Castle Rock Police Department for repeatedly ignoring her and not enforcing her protective order. She lost that case, but the matter eventually ascended the highest domestic court ladder, ending up before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

That court, too, ruled against Lenahan, stating that she had no constitutional right to the order’s enforcement.

Lenahan was not content with that and became the first person ever to file a domestic violence complaint against the United States with the Inter-American Commission, alleging that the police department and Supreme Court decision violated her human rights.

The Commission — headquartered in Washington, D.C., and with the authority to investigate human rights violations by the 35 members of the Organization of American States, of which the United States is one — agreed with her. On August 17, it issued a scathing indictment of U.S. domestic violence policies and made recommendations for bettering them.

The Commission cited “systemic failures” by the police department to enforce the protective order, and it urged the United States to investigate and remedy them. It also stated that police failed to duly investigate Lenahan’s complaints and “have not been held accountable for failing to comply with their responsibilities.”

A number of international organizations and prominent spokespersons applauded the Commission’s conclusions and urged the United States to follow them, including Human Rights Watch and Rashida Manjoo, the U.N. investigator on violence against women.

Related Resource: Politic365, “International Human Rights Organizations Chastise US on Failures in Domestic Violence Case” Aug. 29, 2011