She's a character, she has opinions.

One small step.

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Last week, the Obama administration opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic violence to receive asylum in the United States. As it stands now, an applicant for asylum in the U.S. must show a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or “membership in a particular social group” so the inclusion of abused women in this category is a step in the right direction. But is it a big enough step? I don’t think so.

“In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.” [Source]

Do you have any idea how hard it’s going to be for a woman to prove any of that? In a culture where domestic violence is widely tolerated it is just that, tolerated. Assumed to exist. Considered to be the norm. Who will speak up for this woman and help her prove she is little better than property? Who will testify that she is subordinate to her husband when in her country that is just how things are? Who will even think they should or could?

I see a few mistakes being made here. One is the assumption that it’s as simple to speak out against your abuse and abuser and get help in other countries as it is in the U.S., and another is that it’s simple to speak out against your abuse and abuser and get help in the U.S.

Abused women lack options. They may not have transportation, money, or access to phone or internet in order to contact someone for help. They may be, and most likely are, ashamed, because their abuser and society have lead them to believe they should be. They may be afraid of retaliation and an escalation of violence if they do seek help. And that’s here, in the U.S. If our shelters and support services asked these women to prove they were subordinate, treated like property, and could find no other help, before we granted them our assistance, how many do you think would even ask?

Abused women in patriarchal countries where abuse is widely tolerated have even fewer options. It isn’t out of line to assume that many women in these countries live below the poverty line and don’t have money to cover costs of transportation, and even if they did their cultures may very well prohibit women from being in public without a male escort. Like abused women here, they are ashamed and fear retaliation should they leave or seek help. And, making matters worse, if they are from a country where abuse is widely tolerated–common, one might say, even accepted–who will speak up for them and help them prove their abuse when to nearly everyone that abuse is accepted as the norm?

It’s nice that the U.S. is making this offer, but it almost seems like a tease to me. I imagine any woman seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape her abuse is doing so in a state of desperation. Asking her to then go on and prove, in some unnamed way, that she was abused in the specific way outlined by the requirements, and that she had nowhere to go for help in her own country, is putting an unfair burden on someone who has already been burdened enough.

You’ll see her wounds. You’ll hear her quiet testimony. You may feel her shame. Let that be enough.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

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Written by tldegray

July 22, 2009 at 3:49 pm

One Response

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  1. […] One small step at It’s Ridiculous […]

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