In the United States, domestic violence accounts for 21 percent of violent crime. Emblematic of this epidemic, three women are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands every day. Domestic violence is more than just physical violence. It includes physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse, as well as stalking and controlling behaviors committed by intimate partners, immediate family members, or other relatives. Intimate partner violence, a type of domestic violence, is perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner. Every minute, 20 people experience an act of intimate partner violence. In addition to physical and psychological trauma, this epidemic has another serious public health implication.
Domestic violence is linked to homelessness. The United States Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness for families with children. One study revealed that one in four homeless women became homeless after experiencing violence. This unfortunate link has negative health repercussions for domestic violence victims. Homeless individuals have problems accessing healthcare, which contributes to increased rates of chronic health problems, mental illness, substance abuse and sexually transmitted disease. Another study determined that homelessness is an independent risk factor for death from specific causes, with the mortality rate among the homeless four to nine times higher than people with homes. To exacerbate this situation, the complex safety needs of domestic violence victims frequently exceed the capabilities of traditional shelters and temporary housing programs.
In acknowledgement of the multifaceted relationship between domestic violence and homelessness, many states have developed legal interventions to help protect the housing rights of domestic violence victims. These interventions focus mainly on rental properties because tenants are three times as likely to experience domestic violence as homeowners. There are six major categories of legal interventions that states have adopted. These interventions include: requirements for landlords to change locks; confidentiality programs; evictions defenses; early lease termination provisions; protections ensuring a domestic violence victim’s right to call emergency services; and housing discrimination laws.
These protections vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and the exact contours of a state’s legal interventions can be complex. To help public health advocates better understand this legal landscape, the Network has created a series of resources including: an issue brief, a 50-state survey of laws, and state specific fact sheets.
This blog post was developed by Mathew Swinburne, Senior Staff Attorney at the Network for Public Health Law–Eastern Region at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this post does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.