United Nations Body Looks at Housing Conditions for Women in America

October 17, 2005 12:00 am

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ACLU Testifies on Housing Problems for Victims of Violence and Immigrant Domestic Workers

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union is among dozens of groups and individuals providing testimony to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing as part of a three-day consultation on women and housing in North America, which ends today. The ACLU and its clients, who are victims of housing discrimination, have testified on the poor housing conditions faced by victims of domestic violence and immigrant domestic workers in the United States.

“”The lack of alternative housing can make it all but impossible for women to escape abuse and achieve independence, even when their lives and the lives of their children are in danger,”” said Emily Martin, Acting Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “”We urge the U.N. Special Rapporteur to begin a global conversation on the obstacles to adequate housing faced by women not only in developing countries, but right here in the United States as well.””

The impact of violence against women on women’s housing rights has been a primary focus of the consultation. The ACLU submitted personal testimony from three clients it has successfully represented who were evicted or threatened with eviction from their homes because they were the victims of domestic violence. One of the clients addressed U.N. Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari in person on Sunday. The woman, referred to as “”Laura K.,”” told her story of being locked out of her home with her infant by her landlord at the instruction of her abusive husband. After the ACLU intervened, the apartment complex agreed to pay monetary damages to the woman and train its staff on fair housing law and domestic violence.

“”I believe I was punished for being a victim of my husband’s violence, for being a mother, and for being a woman,”” said Laura K. “”I believe that no one should have to go through what I went through and be made homeless because of domestic violence.””

The other ACLU clients submitting testimony, who were threatened with eviction after being assaulted or stalked by their partners, echoed these concerns.

According to the ACLU, a woman’s ability to escape an abusive relationship often depends on socio-economic factors such as her success in finding a home that provides safety to her and her children. Many domestic violence survivors become homeless as the result of “”zero tolerance”” housing policies that permit the eviction of all members of a household when any crime occurs in the home, without regard to whether the tenant was a victim of the crime.

The ACLU said the lack of safe housing is particularly troublesome since 26 percent of women in the United States report having been victimized by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Furthermore, many regional and local studies confirm that domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness.

In its institutional testimony, the ACLU also addressed issues of inadequate housing for immigrant domestic workers who are abused and exploited by their employers. Because these women are generally out of public view with no oversight of their working conditions, immigrant domestic workers often find themselves in severely exploitative employment upon their arrival to the United States. Many of these women do not report the abuse because they know if they lose their job or are dismissed, they lose their home as well.

In addition to providing testimony and training on these issues, the ACLU’s Martin facilitated a special session on Saturday on Hurricane Katrina and its implications for women. The session addressed the duties of states to respond to national emergencies, and strategized on how best to address the housing needs of women and children who have been displaced by Katrina.

The ACLU recently created a new Human Rights Working Group specifically dedicated to holding the United States government accountable to universally recognized human rights principles. The Human Rights Working Group is charged with incorporating international human rights strategies into ACLU advocacy on issues relating to national security, immigrants’ rights, women’s rights and racial justice.

Steven Watt, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Working Group, also participated in the regional consultation.

For a copy of the ACLU’s written submission to the UN Special Rapporteur, go to: /womensrights/gen/20003leg20051005.html

For more information on the ACLU clients, go to: /womensrights/violence/

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