The Problems of Private Violence: Engaging Domestic Violence Asylum Cases and the U.S. Violence Against Women Act

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Cheryl LLEWELLYN, University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA
Over the past two decades, the United States has observed an increase in asylum cases made by women who are victims of domestic violence. These women make the case that they have suffered uniquely gendered persecution, and thus should be eligible for asylum under the “particular social group” clause of the asylum definition. Despite the proliferation of these cases, the U.S. has been slow to recognize gender as a ground for asylum, especially in domestic violence related cases. Previous scholarship suggests that this lack of incorporation results from the tension between the private nature of domestic violence and the requirement for a public display of persecution in the asylum context. In this paper, I explore how the national legislation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) specifically hinders proper adjudication in domestic violence related asylum cases. Though VAWA has reduced the number of domestic violence cases domestically, I argue that the logic employed in this legislation reinforces the private, rather than the social, nature of domestic violence, creating inhospitable conditions for victims of domestic violence who apply for asylum. I draw on my dataset of all published appellate level domestic violence asylum cases in the United States, describing how the logic of VAWA filters into asylum adjudication, particularly in the interpretation of applicants’ credibility. I ultimately argue that U.S. asylum practice will be incapable of effectively dealing with women’s cases of domestic violence until VAWA more concretely addresses the social roots of violence against women.