The Idea of Violence against Women: Lessons from United States v. Jessica Lenahan, the Federal Civil Rights Remedy, and the New York State anti-Trafficking Campaign


Violence against women is both a fact of life for women throughout the world and an idea growing out of the international human rights movement. As an idea, violence against women brings together various kinds of gender violence, names them, and characterizes them not as isolated incidents perpetrated by misguided individuals but as parts of culturally-created systems of gender inequality. Armed with an understanding of the idea of gender violence and the insights into its character and dynamics, activists are free to use this idea as a weapon. This paper will discuss three examples of efforts to use the idea of violence against women and its corollaries to change the lives of women and girls who live within its shadow: a case brought in the Inter- American Human Rights Commission on behalf of a United States victim of domestic violence, federal violence against women legislation, and New York State’s anti-human trafficking campaign. Each represents a different kind of action, and each met with a different kind of success. In the end, the problem of violence against women demands that we call on all of these approaches – and many more- if we are to make headway against this ancient, global blight.

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