Why Are Domestic Violence Victims Afraid To Call 911?

Aug 19, 2013
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What if getting help from the cops also meant you could get evicted?

That’s the scary reality for numerous tenants across the country who live in municipalities with “nuisance property” ordinances, according to a new report by The New York Times.

Nuisance property ordinances are meant to protect neighbors from “seriously disruptive households,” the Times piece states. In practice, this means potential evictions for any household that warrants a police visit too many times.


Those laws can have devastating consequences for victims of domestic violence. Lakisha Briggs of Norristown, Pa., told the Times that when her abusive ex-boyfriend, Wilbert Bennett, got out of jail in June 2012 and promptly showed up at her home, she feared for her safety, but was more afraid to call police.

When Bennet had been previously arrested for assaulting Briggs, police told her “You are on three strikes. We’re gonna have your landlord evict you,” according to ACLU staff attorney Sandra Park. Under Norristown ordinances, a tenant could be evicted if police responded to three “disorderly behavior” calls within a four-month period.

Days after Bennett showed up after his jail release, he attacked her once again, stabbing her in the neck with a broken ashtray. A neighbor called 911 despite Briggs’ pleas not to do so, and town officials told Briggs landlord he had to kick her — and her 3-year-old daughter — out on the streets.

The ACLU took up the case and Norristown not only backed off of Briggs, but repealed the ordinance, according to ACLU.org. However, weeks later they enacted another “virtually identical” ordinance.

The ACLU claims that these types of ordinances violate the Violence Against Women Act. The federal law states a landlord cannot evict a victim of domestic violence because of violence, or threats of violence, committed against the victim — unless there is an immediate threat to other tenants.

Nevertheless, the director of the Illinois Domestic Violence Helpline, Gwen Kaitis, told the Times the organization gets at least a few calls every month from women afraid to call the police for help because of the threat of eviction. Illinois has more than 100 municipalities with nuisance property ordinances.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


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