Pulling the Trigger: Separation Violence as a Basis for Refugee Protection for Battered Women
49 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2010 Last revised: 17 Feb 2010
Date Written: December 1, 2009
For over a decade, women seeking asylum from persecution inflicted by their abusive husbands and partners have found little protection in the United States. During that time, domestic violence-based asylum cases have languished in limbo, been denied, or occasionally been granted in unpublished opinions that have not provided a much-needed adjudicative standard. The main case setting forth the pre-Obama approach to domestic violence-based asylum is rife with misunderstanding of the nature of domestic violence and minimization of the role that society plays in the proliferation of domestic violence. Fortunately, however, a recent Obama-administration legal brief indicates that women fleeing countries where governments are unable or unwilling to protect them from their abusive husbands finally may be able to avail themselves of U.S. asylum law. This article proposes a workable standard for adjudicating such claims. Based in part on psychological research on the dynamics of abusive relationships, particularly the phenomenon known as “separation violence,” this article formulates a particular social group that satisfies the various legal elements for political asylum: “women who have left severely abusive relationships.” This social group is based on research demonstrating that abusers strike out with increased violence when their partners leave the relationships, in many cases even killing them. This article explores the dynamics of abusive relationships, the failure of U.S. adjudicators to understand those dynamics, and the application of international human rights law to domestic violence survivors.
Keywords: refugee, asylum, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, battered women, international law, immigration law, persecution
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation