At this week's United States Human Rights Fund Convening in Philadelphia, the Overbrook Foundation CEO and President Stephen Foster presented the Fund's first Human Rights Hero Award to activist, Jessica Lenahan. Ms. Lenahan receives this award to honor her extraordinary work promoting human rights and combating violence against women in the face of deep, personal tragedy.
In 1999, Jessica's estranged husband Simon Gonzales threatened and intimidated Jessica and her children, resulting in a judge's restraining order. Defying this restraining order, Mr. Gonzales kidnapped their three daughters from Ms. Lenahan's home. When Ms. Lenahan repeatedly sought help from the police to enforce the restraining order and subsequently to recover her daughters, they refused to help and even belittled her concerns. Tragically, this kidnapping ended with both the death of Mr. Gonzales during a shooting with the police and the uninvestigated murders of her daughters. Ms. Lenahan filed a lawsuit against the Town of Castle Rock for its unwillingness to protect her and her children despite the judge's restraining order.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court decided that the police were not required to enforce the restraining order. Undeterred, Ms. Lenahan turned to the human rights community in her efforts to redress the injustice. Ms. Lenahan brought an appeal to the US Supreme Court's decision to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR). On August 17, 2011, this court ruled in favor of Ms. Lenahan, publically condemning the United States for failing to investigate Ms. Lenahan’s complaints, failing to investigate the circumstances of the deaths of her children and failing to hold law enforcement accountable for its responsibility to implement the law. This decision is documented in the IACHR’s press release.
Additionally, this powerful video of Jessica's story in her own words surpasses our ability to recount the speech presented at the Convening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvPtMCrl4J4&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Ms. Lenahan has used this decision to expand advocacy and public education efforts to improve services and legislation to protect women from domestic violence in the US. As a woman of Latina and Native American descent, she views her experiences as a part of a trend of the injustice and the denial of human rights that disproportionately affects women in this country, particularly women from low-income or ethnic or racial minorities. Despite the toll of her personal tragedy, she has become a "voice for the voiceless" in her efforts to protect all women, especially those women from the most vulnerable communities.
The Overbrook Foundation congratulates Jessica Lenahan and applauds her hard work to promote accountability from all levels of the United States government for human rights violations committed under their auspices.