Gender-based violence is usually considered ‘an isolated incident’ rather than as part of a systematic ‘terrorism’ against women. But, Rhonda Copelon, in Understanding Domestic Violence as Torture (Human Rights of Women edited by Rebecca J. Cook), compares the violence against women today, particularly violence within the home, with that of State sanctioned torture that has been used for centuries in terrorizing populations across the globe.
In her chapter, Copelon states that the “terroristic use of torture  was born in the Inquisition and reached its apogee in the European witch-hunt of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries… and re-emerged as a tool of colonial powers, and unregulated, low visibility police practices in the US; and a tool of nationalism, fascism, and Stalinism. In Nazi, Germany, torture was industrialized, reaching unprecedented levels of sophistication and horror.”
Copelon then goes on to say that “intimate violence, patriarchal ideology and conditions rather than a distinct, consciously coordinated military establishment confer upon men the sense of entitlement, if not duty to chastise their wives. Wife-beating is, therefore, not an individual, isolated, or aberrant act, but a social license, a duty or sign of masculinity, deeply engrained in culture, widely practices, denied, and completely or largely immune from legal sanction.”
As stated in my last post, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing Are Guarding the Hen House, when it comes to implementing the laws which are designed to protect and defend women’s rights, those charged with the task, are driven more by greed (and perhaps their own narcissistic, abusive personalities) than any sense of duty, integrity, or professionalism.
The problems within family courts are so rampant that the phrase ‘legal abuse syndrome (LAS)’ has been coined to describe the suffering of victims received in the legal system, with Dr. Karin Huffer declaring it a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Unfortunately, authorities’ response to the epidemic negligence within the courts is total apathy and inaction. These authorities even contention that their “hands are tied” in punishing what amounts to criminal activity by court officials, claiming that illegal actions of judicial actors are “protected by judicial independence.” This declaration is totally ludicrous, and defies all principles of due process, and even makes a mockery of the democratic process. Furthermore, their argumentation is repudiated in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, which states that “the principle of the independence of the judiciary entitles and requires the judiciary to ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted fairly and that the rights of the parties are respected”. However, since the ‘wolves’ are guarding the hen house, victims of legal abuse have nowhere to turn for justice.
This is why the recent decisions of UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (González Carreño vs. Spain, 2014) is so important in advancing and defending the rights of victims, as well as an important instrument for human rights lawyers for the future.
In their decision, the CEDAW states that “it is not enough for the State to adopt legislation on the subject; it is necessary for the legislation to be applied. In Spain, State negligence in protecting women and minors from domestic violence persists to the present time, despite the adoption of legislative measures. In addition, legislation is still lacking to establish a system of redress for victims when there has been negligence.” The Committee even went so far as to repudiate the feeble attempt of the Spanish government to justify the widespread and systematic discrimination against women within their courts as “nothing more than judicial error.”
While the ramifications of this decision cannot be under-estimated, it only scratches the surface of problems within the courts. The challenge for the human rights community at present, is to move beyond ‘smoking gun’ cases like Gonzalez Carreño vs. Spain, and as Radhika Coomaraswamy says “examine the law’s approach to the family and to private space in greater detail and, understand the dynamics more fully with regard to ideological constructions that resist legal change…” (Women, Ethnicity, and the Discourse of Rights, Human Rights of Women).
Namely, what needs to be examined by human rights lawyers and international courts (apart from the systematic cover-up of all forms of domestic abuse by the courts), is the widespread misappropriation of women’s assets during divorce (see my posts Why the Cock-Bird Can Feather His Nest, Opting Back In: Not as Peachy As it Seems for the Divorcée, and Trailing Spouse vs. Accompanying Spouse: Semantics or Principle?).
Economic oppression is, and always has been, “at the root of most oppression, both in terms of cause and consequence” (Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice, van Wormer) –noting that the misappropriation of property throughout history has always been one of the most effective forms of oppression and persecution.
Unfortunately, as Cook states “there has been an unwillingness by traditional human rights groups to focus on violations of women’s rights, and a lack of understanding by women’s groups of the potential of international human rights law to vindicate women’s rights” (Human Rights of Women).
These two communities (women’s human rights law and the feminist movement) need to come together, and take a comprehensive and all-inclusive examination of how and why, not only are courts so openly and flagrantly violating the rights of women and children, but how and why governments are so openly and flagrantly letting them get away with it.
Just as in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tale, in spite of lots and ‘oohing and awing’ by court jesters and the Emperor’s entourage, the Emperor is wearing no clothes – with women and children paying the ultimate price.