You’d think domestic violence would be one thing we can collectively agree is a bad thing, but, as the news so often illustrates, you’d be wrong. Some members of society seem to think that the problem with domestic violence lies not with the perpetrators, but the victims, who can end up being punished as harshly if not more so than the people who abused them. If that’s not an illustration of serious injustice and a backwards system, we’re not sure what is.
Calling the police for help is what domestic violence victims are told to do — and they’re assured that law enforcement officers will arrive, help them resolve the situation, and connect them with the resources they need. What they’re not assured of is that they’ll have a home to come back to after the case is processed, because reporting criminal activity at a residence can be grounds for eviction in some cities. If police respond to calls at a residence too many times in a given period, a city can revoke a landlord’s rental license, and evict any tenants. Landlords can also decide to evict tenants they deem “nuisances.”
If this sounds totally wrong to you, you’re not the only one. Numerous women’s rights groups are working on the issue, pushing for better tenants’ rights protections that will cover victims of domestic violence. No one should ever have to choose between silently enduring abuse and losing a place to live!
2. Charged for Fighting Back
Self-defense is supposed to be a human right, but all too often, victims of domestic violence find themselves charged with assault while their abusers walk free or receive minimal punishments, as occurred in 2010 when Marissa Alexander was imprisoned for fighting back while her abusive ex escaped penalties. In such cases, it’s common to see a household with a history of domestic violence where a woman either defends herself from a particularly vicious attack, or decides she’s had enough and stands her ground in the face of abuse. Teenage children in abusive households can find themselves in the same position; by fighting back to protect their younger siblings or mothers, they may end up charged with crimes.
Astoundingly, courts often blame the victims in these cases, suggesting women should have left or used another method of resolution like calling for help. These responses ignore the very real psychological effects of long-term domestic violence and abuse, and also send a signal to other abusers that they may be able to manipulate a situation to end up with reversed charges where they face no consequences for their abuse, and their partners end up in jail or prison.
It’s bad enough to live in a society where many people think domestic violence is the victim’s fault. Worse yet is the way that translates into real-world social interactions. Experiencing domestic violence and reporting it or speaking out about it can come with serious consequences, as numerous victims of discrimination can testify. The American Civil Liberties Union notes that some employers will fire personnel who experience domestic violence (often on the grounds that they’re asking for too much time off to deal with legal matters), while students in abusive homes may not be treated seriously.
Domestic violence victims can even be targeted for discrimination by insurance companies.
People who need to file restraining orders because of stalking, domestic violence, and other abuse issues may face discrimination from landlords who don’t want to rent to such tenants in the first place, not just landlords ready to evict on the grounds of domestic violence. They can also have trouble finding student housing in dorms, co-ops and similar facilities, and may struggle with enforcement of their orders in the workplace and at other locations. This can create an isolating effect.
4. Turned Away from Shelters
Women’s shelters are for victims of domestic violence, right? Well, in theory, yes, but there are some shocking exceptions to the rule. Some discriminate against transgender women, refusing them access to domestic violence services. Others bar boys above a certain age and/or pets, which makes it difficult for women to safely evacuate their homes without leaving loved ones behind. A woman with a 17-year-old son, for example, might not be able to get him to safety when she leaves for a shelter, so she may make the dangerous and crushing decision to stay after getting the courage to leave, because she doesn’t want to abandon her son in an abusive situation.
Some shelters are working to change this, opening their doors to pets, for example, lifting discriminatory bans on trans women, and working with partner organizations to provide shelter to teens and help families stay together.
5. Victim Blaming
Victims of domestic violence may find themselves in the odd position of being told that was is happening to them is their fault; they should have been more or less assertive, shouldn’t have been involved in abusive relationships in the first place, should have listened to advice, should have gotten out sooner… This attitude pervades society, profiling victims as those at fault instead of targeting the people who commit domestic violence.
Similar attitudes can be seen in response to rape and sexual assault, where the first reaction is often to ask what the victim did, rather than looking to the attacker.
Victim blaming is what lies at the root of all of our backwards social attitudes about domestic violence, and sadly, it can’t be nipped in the bud with legislation or wiped away with ordinances. It requires outreach, education and a fundamental change in how we talk about domestic violence as a society.
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