Following ACLU Action, Public Housing Agency Agrees to Treat St. Louis Women Fairly
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Victim of Domestic Abuse Who Faced Eviction Reaches Settlement With St. Louis Housing Authority
ST. LOUIS — The American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri announced today that a St. Louis mother who is a victim of ongoing domestic abuse has reached an agreement with the St. Louis Public Housing Authority that prevents the agency from evicting her on the basis of her ex-boyfriend’s harassment and abuse. Instead, the woman will be permitted to move to a new unit in order to conceal her location from her abuser, and agents and employees of the Housing Authority will participate in training about domestic violence.
“The St. Louis Housing Authority’s eviction threat was a sad and shameful attempt to put a woman and her children on the streets based on various stereotypes about female victims of domestic violence,” said Brenda Jones, ACLU of Eastern Missouri Executive Director. “Those stereotypes send many wrong messages, most notably that battered women are to blame for their abusers’ actions; that battered women are untrustworthy and irresponsible; and that battered women have the power to end the abuse at any time they wish.”
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, is represented by the national ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. The groups say that the eviction of an individual because she is the victim of domestic violence violates the Federal Housing Act, which prohibits sex discrimination.
According to police reports, the woman endured ongoing abuse by her ex-boyfriend and father of her two children after she ended the relationship. The abuse started two years ago when he fractured a bone in her face with a punch. Despite the break-up, he continued to stalk, harass and threaten her. As part of his harassment and retaliation, he threatened to bring about her eviction and on four separate occasions, he broke the windows to her apartment from the outside when she refused him entry.
Every time he broke her windows, she reported the damage to the police and her apartment manager. When she obtained a restraining order and showed it to the apartment manager, the manager issued a notice of lease violation. The woman then requested to be transferred to another unit in the complex to conceal herself from her abuser, explaining that she was frightened, but the manager refused, saying the woman was responsible for her own domestic situation. The manager also informed the woman she would have to pay for the damage caused from the break-in. Fearing eviction, the woman paid for the damage.
According to her attorneys, the Housing Authority ordered the woman to get out of the complex after her abuser forced his way into her apartment last July and, after she escaped, vandalized it. At no time, however, did the agency ban the man from the apartment complex or file criminal or civil complaints against him for criminal damage to the property.
“Our client was not at fault for what happened to her,” said Dan Glazier, Executive Director and General Counsel for Legal Services of Missouri. “She was the victim. She sought help from the police, obtained an order of protection and reported the abuser’s property damage to her landlord. What did she get in return? She received an eviction summons. She and her children would have ended up homeless if she had not had strong legal representation.”
After eight months of efforts by the St. Louis Housing Authority to force the woman out of her home, on August 26, the Housing Authority entered into a conciliation agreement proposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that requires the Housing Authority to relocate her to another apartment, refund the money she paid for the broken windows, ban her ex-boyfriend from the property where she lived, and send its employees to domestic violence awareness training. HUD will monitor the Housing Authority’s compliance with the agreement.
“Unfortunately, the situation our client faced is not unique,” said Emily Martin, Acting Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “We have worked with women across the country who are threatened with homelessness because they are victims of domestic abuse. Congress is considering important legislation as part of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 that would prohibit public housing officials from unfairly punishing domestic violence victims in this way.”
According to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice statistics, women were the victims in about 84 percent of violent crimes committed by spouses and about 86 percent of crimes committed by boyfriends or girlfriends from 1998-2002. Those statistics are consistent with the Justice Department’s 1998 data, which shows women were victims in about 85 percent of crimes committed by intimate partners.
For more information on the ACLU Women’s Rights Project’s efforts on behalf of victims of violence, including fact sheets on housing discrimination and domestic violence, go to: www.aclu.org/WomensRights/WomensRightslist.cfm?c=173
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