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On This Denim Day, 2018: What Is To Become of Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Immigration Cases?

Apr25
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On This Denim Day, 2018: What Is To Become of Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Immigration Cases?

Today, April 25, 2018, is “Denim Day.” In Colorado and across the United States, today marks nearly two decades of people wearing jeans in support of sexual violence prevention and education. April has also been named “Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month” by the Trump administration.

The first Denim Day occurred in 1999, after an 18-year-old girl in Italy was raped by her 45-year-old driving instructor and the man was ultimately allowed to go free on what became known as the “denim defense” or “jeans alibi.” In that case, the girl’s driving instructor took the girl to an isolated road, pulled her out of the car, stripped off her pants leg, and forcefully raped her. Then he threatened her with death if she told anyone and made her drive the car home. Later that evening, she told her parents what happened, and together they pressed charges against the man. He was arrested, prosecuted, convicted of rape, and sentenced to jail. However, the man appealed his sentence, and his conviction was quickly overturned and his freedom granted. In a statement by the Chief Judge of the Italian Supreme Court, the Court held that the sex was consensual and not rape “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans” and must have “had to help him remove them” and that she thereby consented. The day after the ruling, the women of the Italian Parliament protested the ruling by wearing jeans to work, and a new conversation around rape and how judges view sexual assault was sparked. Members of the California Senate and Assembly followed suit, and so “Denim Day” was born shortly thereafter from the Los-Angeles-based nonprofit, Peace Over Violence, which focuses on sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence intervention, prevention, education, advocacy, and emergency services.

Today, the same stigmas hold tight to sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence cases, even in the United States. Furthermore, in many countries, in Central America and elsewhere, the police and government authorities are unable or unwilling to protect women and minorities from these types of violence. In part for these reasons, it has been the policy of international human rights law and the practice of the United States as a member of the United Nations, to provide legal protections and support to foreign victims of domestic and sexual violence. Yet recent actions by Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration threaten to weaken those protections by preventing victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse from seeking asylum in the United States and by other means.

Recently, AG Sessions referred a number of Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) cases to himself for review. Of these, one is a case which, if reversed by Sessions, could make victims of “private criminal activity” —such as sexual and domestic violence— ineligible for asylum relief and protections in the United States. Additionally, only last week, the U.S. Department of State released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, and, notably, the reports leave out a great deal of detail regarding domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking, and various forms of discrimination, including gender and sexual discrimination.

Just in the report for Honduras, for example, the “Rape and Domestic Violence” section of the report was reduced from almost 2 pages to barely half a page, reporting only in so many words that the country has laws and reporting centers in place. However, the report fails to discuss, in any detail, how the laws and reporting centers operate in practice and how there remain widespread institutional problems related to domestic and sexual violence and abuse, leaving out any discussion of:

  • how many violations go un- and underreported;
  • how widespread the incidences of domestic and sexual violence and abuse are throughout the country;
  • how there are serious weaknesses in the application of the law, including failure to investigate and prosecute and high rates of impunity for perpetrators;
  • how underfunded and inadequate the provision of resources are for the very few urban reporting centers;
  • how inadequate the mental health system is for victims of abuse to cope with the trauma, mood disorders, and mental illnesses stemming from their abuse; and
  • how economic dependence, societal roles and stigmas, and a lack of domestic and sexual violence shelters and victim supports prevent victims from seeking or receiving assistance or ever breaking out of the cycle of violence and abuse.

Regrettably, not only could these changes and omissions to the reports undermine the integrity of the reports and result in losses of focus and funding for the glossed-over issues, but also they could have a severely detrimental impact on the reports’ use in immigration cases across the board— whether asylum, cancellation of removal, or waiver-based, to name a few.

While it remains unclear at this time what AG Sessions will decide in the BIA case, or how much of an impact the changes to the Human Rights Report and other actions taken by this administration to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, will have on relief options for victims of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, it is important to speak with an experienced immigration attorney if you are a victim of domestic, sexual, or interpersonal violence or abuse and you have questions about your immigration case. If you have been charged with or convicted of a crime of sexual or domestic violence or abuse, it is also important to speak with an experienced immigration attorney to determine whether the charge(s) or conviction(s) will have an impact on your immigration status or your options for relief.

If you are already a client of Joseph Law Firm and have questions about your case, please contact your attorney to discuss your particular case. If you are not represented by Joseph Law Firm and have questions about your immigration status or your eligibility for relief in removal proceedings, please contact our office at (303) 297-9171 to schedule a consultation so we can review your case and your options.

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