Women of Color: Domestic Violence Victims & Nuisances in the Eyes of the Law

By: Patrice Turenne 

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race 

In the last twenty-five years hundreds of cities and towns across the country have enacted nuisance ordinances. These ordinances make landlords responsible for weeding out drug dealers and other types of disruptive and undesirable tenants, with the goal of saving neighborhoods from blight.  Landlords are tasked with controlling the conduct of their tenants or face penalties, ranging from fines to the loss of their license to rent.  While the goal of creating beautiful and peaceful neighborhoods is admirable, these ordinances have resulted in an unintended negative consequence, namely the labeling of minority domestic violence victims as nuisances and as a result punishing them for the conduct of their abusers.  This is a heavy burden for a domestic violence victim to bear.  A recent case which stemmed from events that took place in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a small town northwest of Philadelphia, attracted nationwide attention to the plight of domestic violence victims in communities with nuisance ordinances.

Lakisha Briggs, an African-American resident of Norristown, Pa, was afraid to call the police to her rental unit when her live-in boyfriend was abusing her.  Her fear was based on a Norristown Municipal Code, which states that landlords are responsible for the “disorderly behavior” of their tenants.  Under the ordinance, disorderly behavior includes “domestic disturbances that do not require that a mandatory arrest be made.”  More than three calls to the same rental unit for domestic disturbances can result in a landlord being forced to evict their disorderly tenant.  Based on the ordinance in effect at the time, Ms. Briggs, after being beaten with a broken ashtray and then stabbed in the neck, was served an eviction notice.  Prior to losing consciousness Briggs begged her neighbor not to call 911 because she had been warned that further calls to police for domestic disturbances might result in her eviction.

Nuisance ordinances like the one in effect in Norristown, in addition to labeling domestic violence victims nuisances, have an additional unintended impact on minorities.  They disproportionately impact African-American women.  This is due to the fact that African-American women are more likely to be domestic violence victims than Caucasian women.  Recent statistics indicate that African-American women experience intimate partner violence at rates significantly higher than Caucasian women.  The same appears to be the case for African-American men as compared to Caucasian men.  With these statistics in mind, if nuisance ordinances remain in place, minority women and men all over the country are at greater risk for ending up in situations like Ms. Briggs, abused and facing eviction as a result.

Luckily, Ms. Briggs’ situation attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union.  A complaint was filed on behalf of Ms. Briggs against Norristown in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  The complaint alleges that Norristown’s ordinance violated Ms. Briggs’ constitutional rights, including her right to procedural and substantive due process.  Nuisance ordinances like the one in place in Norristown threaten citizens’ fundamental right to call the police for help in situations where domestic violence is involved.  We can only hope that Ms. Briggs’ case will result in the removal of domestic violence disturbances from the list of eviction worthy offenses in Norristown, PA.  Furthermore, the pending lawsuit hopefully will result in a wave of similar changes to the nuisance ordinances in effect in other jurisdictions.  Finally, I sincerely hope that the attention brought to Ms. Briggs’ case will result in widespread education, especially for police officers, about domestic violence.  The last thing a victim needs is to feel like a nuisance or a burden when they call for help.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

Sources:

Sandra Park, Shut Up or Get Out: PA City Punishes Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police, available at https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights-lgbt-rights-racial-justice-criminal-law-reform/shut-or-get-out-pa-city-punishes  Shut Up or Get Out: PA City Punishes Domestic Violence Victims Who Call the Police.

American Bar Association, Domestic Violence Statistics, available at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html.

Josh Sugarmann, Black Women Face a Greater Risk of Domestic Violence, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-sugarmann/black-women-face-a-greate_b_4157659.html.

Anna Stolley Persky, A Call for Help an Ordinance That Evicts Tenants for Seeking Police Aid Is Putting Abused Women Out on the Street, ABA J., September 2013.

Erik Eckholm, Victims’ Dilemma: 911 Calls Can Bring Eviction, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/17/us/victims-dilemma-911-calls-can-bring-eviction.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Supreme Court Upholds Gun Ban for Domestic Violence Offenders

By: Amanda DiLiberto

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

In 1996, Congress passed 18 U.S.C.S §922(g)(9), forbidding anyone convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” to possess firearms.  In passing this law, Congress considered the strong connection between gun violence and domestic violence.

On March 24, 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Castleman.  Here, the respondent, James Castleman, had been previously convicted under Tennessee law for the offense of having “intentionally or knowingly cause[d] bodily injury to his child’s mother.  Several years later, federal authorities discovered that Castleman was selling firearms illegally.  Castleman was charged with two counts of violating §922(g)(9).  The question before the Court was “whether this conviction qualifie[d] as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.”

To be considered a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” an element of the crime must be “the use or attempted use of physical force.”  It is this phrase that the Court focused on throughout the majority of its analysis.

In its 9-0 decision, the Court concluded that the requirement of “physical force” was satisfied.  To aid in its decision, the Court reviewed Castleman’s original indictment.  The language of the indictment made it clear that the use of physical force was an element of Castleman’s conviction.  Thus Castleman’s conviction qualified as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under §922(g)(9).

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

Sources:

United States v. Castleman, 572 S.Ct. 1 (2014).

18 U.S.C.S. § 922(g)(9).

Tribal Courts Dealing with Domestic Violence

By: Molly McDonough

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race 

Domestic violence is a growing concern in Native American culture. Forty percent of Native American women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.  In response, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA). Section 904 of the VAWA allows tribal court to prosecute non-Native Americans accused of domestic and dating violence crimes. Prior, some acts of domestic violence would not be prosecuted because of a jurisdiction “loophole” with tribal courts having jurisdiction over only American Indians criminal defendants. As a result, non-Native American perpetrators had absolute immunity from criminal prosecution in tribal courts.

Section 904 “recognizes and affirms tribal courts inherent power to exercise special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction.” Now, tribal courts have jurisdiction over non-Native American defendants for acts of domestic violence, dating violence, and violation of protective orders that occur on Native American land. However, this jurisdictional power is limited. Tribal courts will not have jurisdiction if neither the defendant nor the victim is Native American. Also, non-Native American defendants must have significant connections to the tribe. Section 904 is constructed to apply only to non-Indian defendants who have voluntarily and knowingly established significant connection to the tribe.

Tribal courts that choose to exercise jurisdiction under Section 904, must provide the defendant with “ all applicable rights under this Act, an impartial jury reflecting a fair cross section of the community that does not systematically exclude non-Native Americans, all other rights whose protection is necessary under the Constitution of the United States, and for offenses punishable by imprisonment, all rights under existing 25 U.S.C. § 1302(c).” Section 908 of the VAWA delays section 904 effectiveness until March 7, 2015. For the time being, Tribal courts that are interested in exercising this jurisdictional power and have safeguards for non-Indian defendants rights may be admitted to a pilot program.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  

Source:

Indian Law – Tribal Courts – Congress Recognizes and Affirms Tribal Courts’ Special Domestic Violence Jurisdiction over Non-Indian Defendants. – the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013,127 Harv. L. Rev. 1509 (2014).

Domestic Violence: An Issue Affecting All Communities

By: Sarah Phillips

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race 

Domestic violence is an issue no matter what race or economic class an offender is placed in.   There is a myth that domestic violence only occurs in non-white communities and lower-class levels.  This is not the case.  In fact, domestic violence occurs all levels of people with no bias towards their race or economic level.   The difference between the different sets of communities is the help that they seek.  While affluent more middle to upper-class individuals have the means to find private help, lower class individuals are more likely to utilize the public agencies and police available to the public at large.   The availability of resources and subsequent handling of the circumstances surrounding the domestic violence allows for the public to come to wrong conclusion that domestic violence only affects those that are in lower-class communities and non-white.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  

Source:

Boston University, BUPD Online, Domestic Violence Myths (Mar. 30, 2014 12:17PM), available at https://www.bu.edu/police/prevention/domestic_violence_myth.htm.

Approaching Domestic Violence From the Ground Up: From Children to Adults

By: Jay Patel

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

Domestic Violence reaches across every fabric of society.[1] It does not recognize racial, geographic, and socioeconomic or gender lines.[2] Instead it visits destruction upon those affected and imposes a significant health and economic cost on society.[3] Numerous approaches have been proposed, enacted and visited to reduce the number of incidents and provide prophylactic relief. Despite these measures, domestic violence remains an unfortunate reality in society.[4]

At this time, renewed focus should be directed to educating children on the concept of domestic violence, its scope, impact and their potential risk to become victims or  abusers in the future. A class devoted to human relationships and the associated benefits and potential detriments should be created. Discussions oriented around the signs and reactions of victims and abusers should be detailed.  By providing this component when they are young, it should have the ability of impressing upon them the serious nature of the act and provide a basis for them to seek assistance in the future.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.  

[1] United States Department of Justice, Domestic Violence, United States Government (Apr. 1, 2014 10:05 A.M.), available at http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm
[2] Id.
[3] See Robert Pearl, M.D., Domestic Violence: The Secret Killer That Costs $8.3 Billion Annually, Forbes Magazine (Apr. 1, 2014 10:12 P.M), available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertpearl/2013/12/05/domestic-violence-the-secret-killer-that-costs-8-3-billion-annually/ (noting “[a]bused women are 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 80 percent more likely to experience a stroke and 60 percent more likely to develop asthma.” and calculating lost productivity costs at 2.5 billion dollars.); see also Domestic Violence Facts, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (Apr. 1, 2014 10:09 A.M.), available at http://www.ncadv.org/files/DomesticViolenceFactSheet%28National%29.pdf (noting a 2003 and 2007 Centers for Disease Control Report which estimated the annual medical cost of domestic violence at 5.8 billion dollars and the cost of injuries and death at 37 billion dollars each year).
[4] Shannan M. Catalano, Ph.D., Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2010, Federal Bureau of Investigation (Apr. 1, 2014 10:21 A.M.), available at http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm.

Are African-American Women Too Strong to be Victims of Domestic Violence?

By: Chantal Jones

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

Domestic violence is a crime that cuts a painful swath across all races, socioeconomic levels and cultures.[1]  Experts in the field say that one set of victims — black women — is at a far greater risk to experience the grimmest of all domestic violence statistics. According to Dallas News, black women are about three times more likely to die at the hands of a partner or ex-partner than members of other racial groups. Intimate-partner homicide is also among the leading causes of death for black women ages 15 to 35.[2]

Racism alters how African-American women receive treatment through domestic violence resources and how they perceive resources. Therefore, because of racism, African-American women have specific concerns when making decisions about domestic violent relationships and what resources would be the best for them.[3] These concerns include the view of the race as a whole, the perceptions of African-American men, how African-American families are treated American society, economic concerns, and how American public protectors such as the police and judicial system treat victims and batterers in the system.[4]

Often times, African-American women are stereotyped as being too opinionated, bossy, and the subservient woman to her husband or significant other. Being viewed as the “strong black woman” can be positive, but unfortunately, it leaves African-American women in positions where they are not seen as the typical “victim.” Therefore, according to Lisa Martinson of the Wisconsin Women’s Law Journal, the African-American woman must first demonstrate herself to be a victim in general, and then a victim of domestic violence.

African-American women stereotypes negatively suggest that she deserves the violence, that she is strong enough to fight it alone or for any other reason to lay some sort of fault upon the woman. This type of rationalization perpetuates not only racism but also the belief that violence against women is condoned by society. Hopefully, with more awareness of domestic violence and knowledge of how abusers seek to gain and retain power over women, African-American women will not have to first disprove the stereotypes in order to attain the assistance they need to leave and stay safely from the batterer.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.


[1] Selwyn Crawford, Black Women at Greater Risk of Becoming Victims of Homicidal Domestic Violence, Dallas News, (Sept. 21, 2013, 11:10PM), available at http://www.dallasnews.com/news/crime/headlines/20130921-black-women-at-greater-risk-of-becoming-victims-of-homicidal-domestic-violence.ece.

[2] Id.

[3] Lisa M. Martinson, An Analysis of Racism and Resources for African-American Female Victims of Domestic Violence in Wisconsin, 16 Wis. Women’s L.J. 259 (2001)

[4] Id.

Supreme Court Unanimously Votes to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

By: Jamilah Espinosa

Blog Category: Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic violence abusers.  On March 26, 2014, the court announced its decision in United States v. Castleman, ruling in favor of the Obama Administration and advocates for victims of domestic violence, by overturning a decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. James Castleman, a resident of Tennessee, had been convicted of assaulting the mother of his child in 2001, and when he faced gun-related charges in 2009, he was also charged with illegal possession because prosecutors argued that his domestic-violence misdemeanor conviction prevented from owning a gun.

Under federal law, anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence—defined as involving “physical force”—is banned from possessing a gun. Castleman had pled guilty to the offense of causing “bodily injury” to the mother of his child, but now argued that that crime was not sufficiently “violent” to make him fall under the federal gun ban. The exact nature of the injuries sustained by Castleman’s victim was not articulated in court records.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the court, emphasizing that domestic violence takes varied forms  and that it is a crime that doesn’t always reflect what most people view as “violent,” because it can involve pushing, shoving, scratching, or grabbing. She further emphasized that in many states this type of behavior is prosecuted under battery laws, which meant some courts won’t consider such convictions to be domestic violence. Justice Sotomayor said it was enough that Castleman pleaded guilty to having “intentionally or knowingly caused bodily injury to” the mother of this child, further explaining, “because Castleman’s indictment make clear that physical force was an element of his conviction, that conviction qualifies as ‘misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.’” However, the Supreme Court made clear these types of offenses are enough to subject a convicted domestic violence abuse to the federal gun ban.

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. 

Sources:

United States v. Castleman, 572 S.Ct. 1 (2014).

Adam Liptak, Sweeping Ruling on Domestic Violence, N.Y. Times, Mar. 26, 2014, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/27/us/justices-view-gun-curbs-broadly-in-domestic-violence-cases.html?_r=0.

Spring/Summer 2014 Blog Topics

new shield

 The Widener Journal of Law, Economics and Race would like to announce the topics of our Spring/Summer 2014 blogs!

___________________________________________________________________________________

Our blogs will feature the following four topics:

      1)  Domestic Violence Issues and the Law, Economics, & Race

2)  International Law & Race

3)  The Economics of Environmental Regulation

4)  Religion & Race 

___________________________________________________________________________________

New blog entries will be added every Monday. Thank you for supporting the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race!