Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Employment and Housing Discrimination against Domestic Violence Victims

By Aisha Springer
Anyone with experience or knowledge of domestic violence knows how isolating it can be for the victim, whether it is physical isolation imposed by the abuser or the victim’s personal feelings of shame and embarrassment. The often traumatizing response of law enforcement coupled with insufficient or harmful laws serve as verification to many victims that they are, in fact, alone. In 44 states, an employee can be fired for being a victim of domestic violence. This is what happened to Carie Charlesworth, a California teacher. She had placed a restraining order against her abusive husband and informed her school’s principal. Still, her husband showed up in the school parking lot, causing a school lockdown and was arrested. Instead of receiving support, Charlesworth was fired and her children were no longer allowed to attend the school. With her husband set to be released at the end of June and no income of her own, she is left in a situation that forces many abuse victims to remain in an increasingly dangerous relationship. Employment discrimination against abuse victims is legal in most states with the exception of six; Hawaii, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island. This is extremely inadequate given that three fourths of abuse victims have been harassed by their abusers while at work.

Domestic abuse victims can also be evicted under municipal ordinances for disrupting the order. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lakisha Briggs of Norristown, PA to challenge a “disorderly behavior ordinance.” The ordinance states that landlords and tenants can be penalized if police respond to three instances of “disorderly behavior” within four months. Domestic disturbances are explicitly included in this definition. After Briggs’ first strike, she did not call the police out of fear of eviction. However, neighbors called police when Briggs’ boyfriend attacked her with a brick and again when he stabbed her in the neck. When he was finally arrested, a police officer warned Briggs that she was on her third strike and threatened to have her landlord evict her. The city pressured the landlord to evict, but a housing court refused to order an eviction. The city then stated plans to condemn the property and forcibly remove Briggs. At this time, the ACLU took up the case and the city ceased its eviction efforts. Shortly after, however, Norristown passed an ordinance that would impose fines on landlords who refused to evict tenants who call for police assistance.

This is not a situation isolated to Norristown. Cities across the country have “nuisance ordinances” or “crime-free ordinances” that classify being a victim of domestic abuse as an offense deserving of eviction. In a study published in the American Sociological Review, researchers found that domestic violence was the third most common reason that Milwaukee police issued a nuisance citation. They also found that enforcement of the ordinance is disproportionately targeted at African-American neighborhoods. Domestic violence crimes are already underreported and these ordinances further discourage victims from reporting and possibly escaping their abusers. If they do report the crime, they may become one of the 20% of homeless in Norristown who are domestic violence victims. Discriminatory laws such as these demonstrate the ignorance of lawmakers, law enforcers, and society in general when it comes to domestic violence. Though the law and its enforcers are meant to protect citizens, in reality they often contribute to a continuing cycle of domestic violence. Until laws and attitudes catch up to the reality of these crimes, major roadblocks will remain in the fight against domestic violence.

In All But Six States, You Can Be Fired For Being A Victim Of Domestic Violence

Shut Up or Get Out: PA City Punishes Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police

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