FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Supreme Court Fails Victims Again

The Supreme Court has a very mixed track record when it comes to protecting women. As a domestic violence advocate, Criminologist, and activist for a decade, I am deeply concerned that the U.S still fails to prioritize women’s safety. Given that globally more women ages 15-45 die from men’s violence than of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined, far more needs to be done to protect women and girls.  The courts can and should play a far bigger role in doing so.

In 2000, the court overturned part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allowed women to sue their abusers in federal court.  So, we can sue darn near anyone for anything, just not the people who hurt us most deeply. In 2005, the court ruled in Castle Rock v. Gonzales that a town and its police cannot be sued for failing to enforce a restraining order. Jessica Gonzales, now Lenahan, had a permanent restraining order against her husband Simon, who had been stalking and harassing her. Simon was prohibited from seeing her son (not his biologically) and the couple’s three daughters except during specified visitation times. Simon violated that order by taking the three girls on June 22, 1999 around 5:15 p.m. Jessica first called the police about two hours later, then proceeded to call multiple times and visit the station in person over the next several hours. The police took no action, even though Simon had called Jessica admitting he had the girls at an amusement park in Denver. At approximately 3:20 a.m., Simon showed up at the Castle Rock police station and engaged in a shoot-out with police that left him dead. The police then noticed the bodies of the three girls in his vehicle. The court held 7-2 that the Colorado statute did not require that police actually enforce restraining orders.

What?! Absolutely insane.

Gonzales and her attorneys took the case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which ruled that the Supreme Court had erred and that the U.S was violating Gonzales’ human rights through this decision. The IACHR cited international human rights treaties and agreements that urge states to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of violence against women and to address shortcomings in legislation that fail to protect women.

In 2014, the court seemed to improve, as it determined in United States v. Castleman that a state law requiring persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, even when it did not involve force, must still surrender their firearms per federal law. In doing so, the court used a broad interpretation of domestic violence, recognizing it as more than physical.

Yet the court screwed up again, although this time on a case not specifically about abuse. On June 1, 2015, in Elonis v. United States it ruled 7-2 that a man’s threats to his wife via Facebook were not such a big deal, as there was no indication that he intended to threaten her. In one of the first cases to address free speech via social media, the court rejected the “reasonable person” standard that is typical in cases of verbal threats.  Anthony Elonis of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was convicted in 2012 and the conviction was upheld by Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2013. The court did not specify what would actually constitute a threat via social media. Instead, its decision was related to the statute on which Elonis was convicted. The federal statute, 18 U. S. C. §875(c), says that anyone who “transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another” has committed a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Elonis served 44 months. The statute does not specify that the individual intended to make a threat nor that a court must determine his or her mental state.

Among Elonis’s gems to his wife, Tara, was: “There’s one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya, And I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, Soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts. Hurry up and die bitch.” A judge determined this was indeed threatening and granted her a restraining order requiring that Elonis not only stay away from his wife physically but that he also cease contacting her online or posting anything about or to her. Yet three days after the restraining order hearing he was at it again, posting a joke, and then a week later writing, “Fold up your protective order and put in your pocket. Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?” He then posted that he wanted to “make a name for himself” with “the most heinous school shooting ever imagined.” This caught the attention of FBI agent Denise Stevens, who paid Elonis a visit. Even that didn’t stop him, as he posted after she left: “Little agent lady stood so close. Took all the strength I had not to turn the bitch ghost. Pull my knife, flick my wrist, and slit her throat. Leave her bleedin’ from her jugular in the arms of her partner.” Elonis contended that his posts were in the form of rap music and thus were merely expressive.

In failing to address the fact that Elonis persisted in these hateful and scary comments after the restraining order was issued, the court again protected abusers, not victims. One of the first things a domestic violence advocate knows is that if an abuser is making claims that he intends to hurt his partner, we should go ahead and presume he will at some point act on them.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology.

More articles by:

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail