UN Sharply Critical of US on Women's Rights

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UN Sharply Critical of US on Women's Rights

The United Nations Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, has issued a very critical report of the U.S. on its policies on women’s rights. The report is based on a trip of the Special Rapporteur to the US from 24 January to 7 February 2011. During that trip, Ms. Rashida Manjoo broadly examined issues of violence against women in different settings. Her recommendations should provide fruitful material for the U.S. to improve its policies towards women.

As indicated in the report, “Violence against women occurs along a continuum in which the various forms of violence are often both causes and consequences of violence.” Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is one of the most critical expressions of violence. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) 552,000 violent crimes by an intimate partner were committed against women in the U.S. in 2008.

Their husbands or intimate acquaintances are responsible for the majority of crimes against women. The Violence Policy Center states that the number of women shot and killed by their husbands or intimate acquaintances was four times higher than the total number of women murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined, according to an analysis of 2008 data.

Rape and sexual assault continue to be prevalent forms of violence against women in the country. According to the NCVS, 182,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted in the U.S. in 2008, i.e. approximately 500 women per day. In addition, there were 3.4 million persons who were victims of stalking, most of them women. 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men have been stalked in their lifetime in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year. $4.1 billion of that amount is for direct medical and mental health services. Intimate partner violence incidents result in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year.

Children are also victims of violence carried out against their mothers. It has been shown that 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household. Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior among generations. In that regard, it has been shown that boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

Domestic violence offenses are one of the most chronically underreported crimes. It is estimated that only approximately one-quarter of all physical assaults, one-fifth of all rapes, and one-half of all stalkings carried out against females by intimate partners are reported to the police.

There are several reasons for these crimes not being reported. Among those reasons are: fear of retaliation from their abuser, the perception that the police will not respond adequately to the complaint or the belief that these are issues that should be privately addressed. According to a 2009 Department of Justice report, only 56% of intimate partner violence cases filed with the courts resulted in a conviction.

Women victims of domestic violence suffer a wide array of negative consequences, aside from the physical and psychological. Women victims of domestic violence face serious consequences in terms of economic instability, loss of employment and homelessness. In addition, violence against women is frequently seen among women in the military, women in detention, and among immigrant and undocumented women.

The extent of the phenomenon has made that violence against women is now recognized as an issue that belongs not only to the private sphere but that requires State intervention. According to the U.N. Rapporteur, the U.S. Government has taken positive legislative and policy initiatives to reduce the prevalence of violence against women.

Among those steps is the enactment and subsequent reauthorizations of the Violence against Women Act, as well as the establishment of dedicated offices on violence against women at the highest levels of government. However, according to the UN Rapporteur, more U.S. government actions are needed to curb a phenomenon that continues to cause tremendous harm to women’s health and quality of life.

César Chelala

Dr. César Chelala is an international public health consultant and a
winner of several journalism awards.

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