Viewing Gender Violence as a Civil Rights Issue
The #MeToo movement has shown the pervasive nature of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and gender violence. But there are “gaps in legal remedies for survivors,” according to an article co-authored by CUNY Law School Professor Julie Goldscheid for the University of Cincinnati Law Review.
In 1994, Congress added a civil rights component to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which allowed for a “private right of action against an individual who committed an act of gender violence.” In other words, gender-based violence was framed as a violation of civil rights, and survivors had the right to sue. But in 2000, the Supreme Court struck the law down as unconstitutional.
States have since implemented statutes creating their own civil rights remedies for “bias-motivated violence or intimidation” related to gender. Goldscheid and her co-author, lawyer Rene Kathawala, found that these state civil rights remedies provide necessary tools to help gender-based violence survivors, especially when it comes to situations that fall outside the workplace.
But the authors found that “though many of these laws have long been on the books, they are not widely used.” Their survey also revealed a “relative dearth of reported decisions interpreting those laws.” Decisions are important because they create “meaningful legal schemes for accountability and of framing sexual and other forms of gender-based violence as the civil rights violations that they are.”
The authors note that these under-utilized laws can provide meaningful redress for “individuals who seek to hold those who commit acts of gender violence accountable.”