Monday, October 24, 2016

Have you opened a can of soda today?

Have you opened a can of soda today? If so, you had to exert about 22 pounds of force to do so. What does this have to do with domestic violence?

One of the most dangerous forms of violence in a relationship is strangulation. Victims of strangulation can die in as little as 3-10 seconds and it requires less force than most people think to cause fatal injuries. Back to the soda can example, the force needed to open that can is twice as much as is needed to close off a victim’s carotid artery. It’s 5 times as much as is needed to close off a victims’ jugular vein. Either of these can cause death or permanent brain damage in less than a minute. (source)

When an abuser puts their hands on the neck of a partner, they are saying to that partner that they are willing to kill. Death may result immediately, 3-21 days later as swelling and aspiration pneumonia set in, or years later with an increased risk of stroke or other cardiovascular consequences.

Besides the physical consequences of strangulation, victims with a history of non-fatal strangulation are six times more likely to be the victim of attempted domestic homicide than someone without that history and seven times as likely to be killed. Of note is that most of these homicides occur with a gun, not by strangulation. (study)

In 2009, Missouri was the first state to make attempting to strangle a partner a 2nd Degree Domestic Assault, a class C felony (MRS Section 565.073) in recognition of the severity of strangulation. Still, public awareness needs to catch up with policy. Victims, their families, and friends need to know how serious an instance of strangulation is, how its consequences can last for years, and the increased risk for homicide. They need to know how to report it, how to care for themselves after the crime, and what to look for in their medical future. They also need to know the realistic risks of their situation and how to protect themselves.

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic violence, whether including strangulation or not, please call Crime Victim Advocacy Center at 314-652-3623 for help escaping the abuse.

Comments by Jessica M., Director of Advocacy & Community Services

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Changing Faces, Changing Spaces- We've Done This Before

For much of the history of scholarship and services on domestic violence, the crime has been viewed as perpetrated by males against females. This image informed policy and procedures for shelters, courts, police, and government. That image, however, must become more inclusive.

Research has shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals experience domestic violence at the same or higher rates than straight men and women. According to a Williams Institute study, bisexual women are nearly three times as likely as heterosexual women to experience sexual violence from an intimate partner. One third to one half of all transgender people will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Bisexual men are also more likely than heterosexual men to experience intimate partner violence. Because of research like this and increased requests for services for LGBTQ victims of violence, the face of domestic violence is changing and therefore services must change, too.

LGBTQ victims of domestic violence face additional barriers to reporting the violence and receiving services. Scholarship has shown that victims face intimidation, isolation, financial control, and other coercion not to leave or report their abuser. In addition to the techniques that all abusers use to control their victims, LGBTQ victims may face fear of being “outed” if they report the crime, higher likelihood of preexisting isolation from family/friends, and systemic homophobia/transphobia/biphobia in the criminal justice system. Lesbians and gay men who report rape challenge the system’s inherent stereotypes that abusers are male and victims are women. Simply put, the system is not made for LGBTQ victims, at least not yet.

How, then, can the systems we have in place for female victims better address the changing face of domestic violence? This will be an ongoing discussion in the coming years, but to start, agencies can:
·      Provide services regardless of gender (a requirement of agencies currently receiving Violence Against Women Act funding)
·      Allow victims to self-identify gender, ask for their pronouns
·      Classify victims for groups/programs according to their gender identity
·      Target outreach and education programs to LGBTQ communities
·      Develop & implement trainings for law enforcement, courts, and other criminal justice system partners on working with LGBTQ victims of domestic violence

The change will not come easily, but we have been through this before. Advocates fought for decades to increase awareness of domestic violence; to improve the way victims are treated by the criminal justice system; to create support networks, advocacy groups, and shelters to pick up where society has not; and to make domestic violence an important local, national, and international policy issue. It is imperative, then, that advocates and policymakers turn this decades of experience and knowledge to likewise improving the way that LGBTQ victims of intimate partner violence are treated by society and what services are available and accessible to them.

CVAC's LAAW Programs offer free services to victims of domestic violence regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. For more information, call 314-652-3623 or visit

Comments by Jessica M., Director of Advocacy and Community Services

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When Violence Becomes a Nuisance

Imagine for a moment being a victim of domestic violence and…
… your landlord tells you that the next time you need to call 911 to escape your abuser, you need to leave your house and go down to the corner store to do make the call.
… the police officer who has responded for the second time that night tells you that the next time you call 911, your property will be flagged as a nuisance property and your landlord will have to go to a hearing.
…. your landlord tells you that you are being evicted because you called 911 too many times and the landlord was fined for having a nuisance property.

All of these situations have happened to St. Louis domestic violence victims due in part to the Nuisance Property Ordinance.

What is a nuisance property?
According to Chapter 15.42 of the St. Louis Code of Ordinances, “A ‘Nuisance’ is a continuing act or physical condition which is made, permitted, allowed or continued by any person or legal entity, their agents or servants or any person or legal entity who aids therein which is detrimental to the safety, welfare or convenience of the inhabitants of the City or a part thereof, or any act or condition so designated by statute or ordinance.” 

This is commonly used to describe properties that are used for drug sales, prostitution, illegal firearms sales, and/or illegal gambling that require repeated contact by law enforcement and thus considerable public resources. Repeated contact may mean as few as 3 calls to 911 in a 12-month period.

What are the consequences of being a nuisance property?
If a property is flagged as a nuisance, a notice is sent to the owner or landlord and they are given 30 days to remedy the problem. If the situation is not remedied, the landlord or owner will be given a hearing after which, if found guilty of maintaining a nuisance, they may face a fine and up to 90 days in jail with escalating punishments for each additional offense. One way that landlords and owners may abate the nuisance is by evicting or removing the tenants of the property.

What does this have to do with domestic violence?
Domestic violence victims who have to call 911 on their abuser multiple times may get caught up in the nuisance property process. This means their landlords may face punishment and the victims may face eviction. Currently, the City Police Department’s Problem Properties Unit along with Aldermen and the City Counselor’s Office attempt to cull the domestic violence calls from the problem properties list to prevent them from being identified as nuisance properties.

Why is this important?
Domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes. Estimates range from 50%-80% of domestic violence incidents going unreported to police. Anything like the nuisance property ordinance that is perceived to punish domestic violence victims for repeatedly calling for help may decrease the likelihood of reporting and delay victims’ access to services and escape from the situation. 

Furthermore, with the demand for domestic violence shelter beds far outstripping the available supply, finding emergency housing for a victim facing eviction is a difficult task especially without the assistance of a trained victim advocate. Victims may also be denied future housing if their past landlords report that they created a nuisance in previous housing. Even if the cases are being removed from the nuisance list, however, there is still a lot of misinformation by landlords and the public that results in threats or evictions even when the nuisance ordinance does not apply.

What can be done?
The first step that advocates suggest is to formalize the exception to the nuisance property ordinance. Such a bill has been introduced as Board Bill #151, introduced by Ald. Megan Green and cosponsored by Ald. Sharon Tyus, Ald. Christine Ingrassia, Ald. Jeffrey Boyd, Ald. Scott Ogilvie, and Ald. Lyda Krewson. This would add language to the ordinance that “Notwithstanding any other provisions in this Section, a public nuisance does not exist solely: A. as a result of calls to alw enforcement officer of agencies for assistance in regards to alleged domestic violence. B. due to incidents of domestic violence.” This is not the only language that could be used, but it is a compromise that is currently before the Board of Aldermen that deserves serious consideration.

If the domestic violence cases are being removed from the list, why change anything?
This is the "if it ain't broke" like of argument. The exception for domestic violence victims, however, is not officially written into the statute. This process depends on police officers and government officials voluntarily excluding domestic violence cases from the nuisance property laws. As personnel or opinions change, however, this practice could be eliminated without explicit statutory language to mandate its continuation.

What comes next?
Changing the nuisance ordinance alone will not remedy the misinformation that the general public, landlords, and tenants have about the process. The Problem Properties Unit of the Police Department, domestic violence agencies, Aldermen, and neighborhood groups would all be well-served to develop and maintain educations programs to refute the misinformation about the nuisance ordinance and to notify victims and landlords of their rights and responsibilities.

What about other victims of violence?
Domestic violence victims are not the only victims who may be caught up in the nuisance ordinance. In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released suggestions for new protections for victims who need to access 911 services. These state that nuisance ordinances that punish victims for calling 911 may violate the Fair Housing Act to the extent that they are disproportionately applied to women, the most common victims of domestic violence. 

Further, HUD goes on to suggest that jurisdictions should repeal or revisit nuisance ordinances that implicitly encourage evictions or other sanctions for victims of domestic violence and other crime victims for using 911 services. Depending on the success of formally excluding domestic violence victims from the nuisance ordinance, St. Louis should next evaluate whether their ordinance similarly burdens victims of other types of crime and exempt them as well. 

LAAW Programs of CVAC serve thousands of domestic violence victims annually regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence, please call CVAC at 314-652-3623. 

Comments by Jessica M., Director of Advocacy and Community Services