A landmark case was heard by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Friday, in which a domestic violence victim is filing an individual complaint against the US for international human rights violations. Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales) lost her daughters, Rebecca, age 10, Katheryn, age 8, and Leslie, age 7, when her estranged husband abducted the girls, violating the restraining order filed against him years earlier by Lenahan. Despite Lenahan’s pleas for help from the Colorado state police, no action was taken. Hours after the abduction, Lenahan’s husband was shot by police after he drove to a police station and opened fire. The bodies of Lenahan’s three daughters were subsequently found in the back of his truck.
After the loss of her daughters, Lenahan filed a suit against the police for failing to take action after she reported their abduction. The National Center for Women and Policing, which is administered by the Feminist Majority Foundation, joined Women in Federal Law Enforcement, the National Black Police Association, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, and Americans for Effective Law Enforcement in filing an amicus brief in support of Lehahan’s claim that her due process rights were violated. In June 2005, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the non-responsiveness of the police did not violate her constitutional rights.
In December 2005, she filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, saying that the Court’s decision violated her human rights. This claim made her the first domestic violence victim to file an individual complaint against the United States for international human rights violations.
“International human rights bodies, such as the Inter-American Commission exist to ensure a basic level of humanity across nations,” Steven Watt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said. “In domestic violence cases such as Jessica’s, international bodies provide access to redress when the home country fails to act.”
Lenahan is represented by a team of lawyers from the ACLU Women’s Rights Program, the ACLU Human Rights Program, and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic.