A Drake Law School graduate has been honored with a national award for her writing. Amanda Knief came across a contest sponsored by the American Bar Association while she was working on a paper. She really liked the paper she was working on at the time, and had a passion for the topic as well as a supportive professor. She decided to enter it in the writing contest, and got a phone call a few months later.

Knief won the top prize, including 750-dollars and a commendation from the Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence. The topic had to be not only domestic violence, but an international view of the subject. She focused on the problems women face when they come to the US seeking asylum and trying to prove they’re at risk in their home countries from violence against women, whether it’s general cultural acceptance of violence, or local customs like female genital mutilation.

Knief says many of them face abuse or even death, but often their cases don’t fit into established categories like victims of war, or of religious or political persecution, who are routinely granted asylum in this country. The US has struggled to define “persecution” in a way that accommodate these women’s problems, she says.

There is established law outlining what kind of claims receive asylum, but Knief says there’s no definition for a situation like “social persecution.” Some immigration officials have granted women who claim persecution the right to stay here, but when it’s refused and the case is taken to court, the rulings have been inconsistent — giving different rulings on what is and what is not persecution. She calls it “scary” that there are types of violence that threaten some people just because they’re women.

Knief is working as a law clerk after graduating this spring, and just found out she’s passed the Iowa Bar Exam (and will be sworn in tomorrow — Thursday).