By Amanda Sullivan and Olugbemisola Aregbesola
The recent domestic violence murder-suicide by an NFL player is a harsh reminder of the seriousness of domestic violence, and how every community needs to address this issue. According to the Department of Justice, approximately one in four women in the United States will experience intimate partner violence over the course of their lifetime, and a third of female murder victims are killed by their intimate partners.
In 2011, domestic homicides increased 17 percent in New York. In our community, the prevalence and danger of domestic violence is revealed in the deaths of Jacqueline Wisniewski, Lourdes Rodrigues, Helena Rivera, Maria Pagan, Aasiya Hassan, Heather Rylowicz and, just last week, Jenipher Behm Reese of Lockport.
Encouraged by the University at Buffalo Law School’s Women, Children and Social Justice Clinic, in conjunction with the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence, the Erie County Legislature passed a resolution this November declaring freedom from domestic violence a fundamental human right. This human rights initiative was founded upon the case of Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales.
In 1999, Jessica Gonzales (now Lenahan) obtained an order of protection against her husband. In violation of the protective order, he took their three daughters while they were playing outside their home. Although Jessica Gonzales contacted the police, no police action was taken until the husband drove to the police station and engaged in a shootout. After the police shot and killed him, the girls’ bodies were found in his truck.
The United States Supreme Court ruled that local government has no mandatory duty to enforce protective orders. Jessica Gonzales’ legal team took her case to the Inter America Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which declared the United States violated the human rights of Jessica and her daughters. Additionally, the IACHR made several recommendations for local government.
Erie County is known as a county where professionals work together to address intimate partner violence. In passing the resolution, Erie County joined leaders in our country and throughout the world in recognizing domestic violence as a human rights issue.
We are grateful that the Erie County Legislature took part in this historic effort. Passing this resolution is a necessary first step in the creation of social change. However, it is not enough.
We urge our community to seek out domestic violence education, to partake in public awareness, to engage in prevention practices and to financially support all the vital services needed to keep families safe, and to prevent future homicides.
Amanda Sullivan and Olugbemisola Aregbesola are members of the Women, Children and Social Justice Clinic at the University at Buffalo Law School.