On July 15, 2009, the Obama administration took an important step to aid victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing. With the new position in place, a woman will be granted permanent residency in the United States if she is able to prove a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group.”
While this news is promising, applicants will still face hurdles. Victims must prove that their abusers treat them as subordinates and property, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country – with no institutions offering protection. The Department of Homeland Security will judge each case based on its unique facts and the specific threat each applicant faces.
The administration adopted this policy in response to an immigration court filing earlier this year by a Mexican woman, identified in the court papers only by her initials as L.R., who feared her common-law husband would murder her. According to court documents, he held her captive, raped her continuously at gunpoint, stole from her, and tried to burn her alive when she became pregnant. After bearing three children, she fled to California in 2004 and eventually sought asylum. With our government’s new position, women like L.R. will be able to find safety in the United States.
Efforts by our government come at a time when the urgent need to help victims of domestic violence is being launched globally. Last year, the U.N. Secretary-General launched UNiTE to End Violence against Women by appealing to all countries to join forces to eliminate this scourge and recognize the power of the law. One of its five key goals is for all countries to adopt and enforce, by 2015, national laws that address and punish all forms of violence against women.
In addition, two days after the Obama administration laid out its new position, the U.N. issued the Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women designed to assist countries trying to enhance existing or develop new laws to protect women, provide resources for victims and hold perpetrators accountable.
While governmental programs are essential to helping victims of domestic violence, we, as citizens, can do much to help domestic violence victims locally.
What are some ways you can help?
1.) Become a volunteer at or donate to a domestic violence shelter. Learn about shelters in your area.
2.) Raise community awareness, media attention and funds to help victims of domestic violence within your school, church, and neighborhood. There are many ways you can do this -- whether through a walk, a bake sale, a dinner, a blog post or otherwise.
3.) Write to Congress about reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act next year.
4.) Get involved with Maria Shriver’s WE Act program, which educates women about the warning signs of domestic violence.
5.) Help the children of domestic violence victims -- who may otherwise grow up thinking that violence is a normal way of life -- by becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate).
6.) Find other volunteer opportunities in your community.
Collectively, and individually, we can help put an end to domestic violence, here and abroad.
Basia Christ is the owner of Marketive, Director of Marketing for Competent Care Home Health Nursing in Costa Mesa, author of The Heroine’s Journey, and Chair of Communications for Sophia 2010.