75. Despite the considerable efforts deployed in the past two decades at the legal, institutional and policy levels and some positive achievements to prevent and respond to gender based violence, all stakeholders have unanimously denounced the alarmingly persistent high levels of such violence.
Poverty and violence
76. The Working Group observed that poverty may result in homelessness which exposes women to higher levels of violence and vulnerability. During the visit, interlocutors pointed out that victims of domestic violence are often numbered amongst the homeless, either because they have been evicted as a result of the violence or because they have fled from their violent partner. Solutions should include effective protection orders, increased availability of shelters, housing support, prioritizing eligibility particularly for single mother households and those facing heavy unpaid care burdens.
77. The Working Group is troubled at the persistent fatal consequences for women of the lack of gun control, in particular in cases of domestic violence. Women in the United States are eleven times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. Over the past 25 years, more intimate partner homicides have been committed with guns than with all other weapons combined. When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. In 35 states, persons convicted of domestic violence misdemeanours or subject to restraining orders are not prohibited from acquiring guns. Federal law (and the law in most states) allows domestic abusers and stalkers to easily evade gun prohibitions by purchasing guns from unlicensed, private sellers. Forty-one states do not require all prohibited domestic abusers to relinquish guns they already own. (see para 26)66.
78. The Working Group is deeply concerned at the disproportionate number of women from ethnic minorities, particularly African American, Native American and immigrant women who are subjected to heightened levels of violence, including rape and sexual violence.67 Relevant authorities stressed the difficulties in obtaining accurate data on various immigrant and refugee communities who may fear fear reporting to law enforcement officials. Indigenous women are more than twice as likely as all other women to be victims of violence and one in three of them will be raped during her lifetime. Estimates are that nearly 80 per cent of the rapes of indigenous women are by nonindigenous men68. The experts also deplore reports of police brutality and the increased number of homicides of African-American women by the police.69
79. LBTI face heightened exposure to hate crimes and physical violence. Sexual orientation-based hate crimes made up about 21 percent of hate crimes reported by law enforcement in 2013 to the Bureau of Justice Statistic’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. This percentage is probably an underestimate given a number of LBTI survivors of hate violence may not report their abuse to the police.70
Migrant women in detention centers
80. The Working Group is extremely concerned at the situation of migrant women in detention centers71, in particular women with minor children who are in prolonged detention. According to the information received, some detention facilities are not complying with federal mandates and agency policies. Regarding women seeking asylum72, the Civil Rights Commission noted that the expedited removal process creates a fundamentally unfair process by not affording detained immigrants the proper ability to obtain counsel and that the credible fear process should be improved to ensure that those who fear persecution can exercise their right to seek asylum in the U.S. The Working Group also received allegations of sexual abuse and assault of women detainees, as well as mistreatment by CBP officials. Migrant women are often victims of trafficking and violence, including sexual violence during their journey to the United States. In spite of requirements under detention standards, the experts received complaints that appropriate health care services are not systematically provided to these women in a timely manner despite the horrifying physical and emotional ordeals endured. The experts also received complaints of migrant transgender women being mistreated in detention often wrongfully placed with males.
81. The Working Group shares the concerns expressed by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women in her report on her visit to the United States73 regarding women in detention (over-incarceration, sexual violence, shackling of pregnant women, solitary confinement, and lack of alternatives to custodial sentences for women with dependent children, inappropriate access to health care and inadequate re-entry programmes). The Working Group is also concerned at the negative effects of the Prison Litigation Reform Act on the ability of prisoners to seek protection of their rights, which requires prisoners to exhaust all internal complaint procedures before bringing an action in federal court. While welcoming the adoption of National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape, pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (2003), the Working Group expresses serious concerns at reports that their implementation at the state level continues to be a substantial challenge.
Women in prostitution/sex workers
82. The criminalization of women in prostitution/sex workers in most of the country exposes them further to violence, places them in a situation of injustice, vulnerability and stigma and is contrary to international human rights law. As the CEDAW Committee has systematically reiterated, women should not be criminalized for being in a situation of prostitution. Furthermore, as stipulated in the Palermo Protocol, efforts should be deployed to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of women.