We've already written about domestic violence as a pre-existing condition for health insurance. Now recent cases show that victims who report abuse lose their homes — but people who don't report it face jail time.
Sara Olkon of the LA Times tells the story of Kathy Cleaves-Milan, who called the police when her boyfriend threatened her and her daughter with a gun. Soon she'd been evicted from her Chicago apartment because a crime was committed there, even though she was the victim and not the perpetrator. She's now suing Aimco, the company that owned her complex, for discrimination. Aimco spokeswoman Cindy Duffy says, "As the safety of our residents is our top priority, we have a zero-tolerance policy for any criminal activity at our communities." She adds that "if there is an arrest or a violation, all of the occupants on that lease are subject to eviction," and that "the basis for that eviction was the fact the violence had occurred." But, somewhat inconsistently, she also claims that the reason Cleaves-Milan left was that she couldn't pay her rent without her boyfriend's help, an allegation Cleaves-Milan denies. Duffy said, "it certainly wasn't our attempt to penalize her in any way for her situation," but that's exactly what the company did.
According to Olkon, federal law protects public housing residents from being evicted because of violence, and some states have enacted laws to protect the housing of domestic abuse victims, but no across-the-board protection for these victims exists — yet another reason for them not to speak out. Complicating the abuse picture further is the status of people who know about it but don't speak up. Feministe pointed us to the story of Fannie Schwartz, an Amish woman charged with failing to report her husband Johnny's sexual abuse of two teenage girls. Coverage of the case is a little confusing — prosecutor Danette Padgett says that though Schwartz didn't go to the police, she "did, at different points in time, report it to the church and the church took care of that situation, in their opinion." But according to another statement in the case, she "said it wasn't bothering her like it should have been." If convicted, she could serve several years in prison.
Feministe links Schwartz's case to a recent Times article on sexual abuse within Orthodox Jewish communities. In that article, some members of these communities expressed the fear that trying to handle abuse accusations internally protected criminals and allowed them to hurt more victims. And the fact that Fannie Schwartz had to go to church elders "at different points in time" suggests that they weren't effective at stopping the abuse the first time. Clearly religious communities aren't always capable of protecting their own, and those who conceal an abuser's actions deserve to face consequences. But Jill of Feministe handily sums up the complexities of Schwartz's case:
[I]t's rare to see criminal charges brought against non-abusers who knew about the abuse and didn't interfere. Again, I don't think it's wrong to prosecute those who aid and abet abuse; I just wonder where we draw the line when it comes to knowing about and ignoring abuse, and how much we factor in obligation to the abused (i.e., in my opinion, it matters more if the person doing the ignoring had some degree of responsibility for the abused - a teacher, a doctor, a parent, etc), and the relative power of the abuser over the person who knew and did nothing.
The power of the abuser is an important concern here — someone who molests two teenage girls might well be capable of severely threatening his wife. And, says Sheriff Roye Cole, there are cultural issues at play in cases of abuse within the Amish community:
Do they even know they need to report it? Who's going to report it? And how do they report it? I don't think the Amish community's going to have a list of phone numbers so they know to call the hotline. They need to know how to help children when they need it.
This last line applies not just to the Amish, but to Orthodox Jewish communities as well, and really to anyone who's in a position to learn about child and domestic abuse. Both Schwartz's story and the Times piece reveal the need for better relationships between law enforcement and religious groups, and for these groups to create an atmosphere where it's easier for victims and those who know about abuse to come forward. As Cleaves-Milan's case makes clear, this remains difficult, whether you're a member of a religious minority or not. Many obstacles remain between reporting abuse and actually getting justice, and if our legal system is serious about reducing domestic violence and sexual assault, it needs to eliminate these obstacles.
Image via LA Times.
Domestic-Abuse Victim Says She Was Evicted For Reporting Crime [LA Times]
Amish Wife Is Accused Of Not Reporting Husband's Sexual Abuse Of Girls [KY3.com]
Amish Wife Accused Of Not Reporting Sex Abuse [Feministe]
Orthodox Jews Rely More On Sex Abuse Prosecution [NYT]