WE ARE

  NOT POWERLESS

Introduction

         For better or for worse, policies have the ability to positively or negatively affect the target population they are intended for, and this holds especially true at the national, or macro level. Additionally, the making and implementation of policy can be influenced by a variety of social and cultural factors. For this reason, it is vital that the greater public have some measure of knowledge concerning: (1) the many factors that influence policy creation and implementation in addition to; (2) how the proposed or enacted legislation may positively or negatively affect the population it is intended for.

        This review will: (1) breakdown and describe the proposed bill H.R. 1963 (Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act, 2017); (2) provide a research-based analysis of its effectiveness; (3) recommend potential alterations and; (4) discuss the next steps that should be taken through the lens of Social Work. 

H.R. 1963 Description

        The Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2017 was introduced on April 5th, 2017 in the House of Representatives by Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl) (H.R. 1963, 2017). If passed, this bill would amend the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by prohibiting discrimination towards or regarding domestic violence/sexual assault (DV/SA) survivors in a number of areas including: “the sale or rental of housing and related activities”; “residential real-estate transactions”; and “the provision of real-estate brokerage services” (H.R. 1963, 2017). Finally, H.R. 1963 seeks to incorporate the definitions of domestic violence and sexual assault found in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 into that of the Fair Housing Act to provide uniformity across existing legislation.

Domestic/Sexual Violence Victimization & Housing

        This bill could greatly benefit survivors of DA/SA and their children (if applicable) as experiencing such victimization significantly increases an individual's risk of experiencing serious housing issues. Specifically, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports that 50% of homeless individuals report having experienced DV, and list it as the primary reason for their homelessness (ACLU, 2008). Similarly, 47% of school-aged homeless children, and 29% of children under the age of five-years-old report having witnessed DV prior to becoming homeless. Unfortunately, the housing issues do not end here, as 48% of women report losing their housing as a result of DV; 83% of survivors report difficulties in finding new housing arrangements and 28% of housing providers report either failing to follow-up as they said they would or simply refusing survivors housing because of their past history of DV (ACLU, 2008).

        The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) reports that up to 20% of survivors struggle to find or keep housing as a result of their victimization, and that an additional 20% of survivors become homeless as a direct result of the crime committed against them. Additionally, they report a number of issues that negatively affect a survivors housing situation including: (1) being unable to afford breaking their lease if the crime occurred near or in their home; (2) experiencing harassment and/or eviction for reporting to law enforcement and; (3) being unable to move quickly enough to minimize or prevent future victimization. Lastly, the NSVRC reports that there is a significant lack of safe, affordable housing available for individuals to reside in following their respective victimizations (NSVRC, 2010).       

H.R. 1963 Recommendations, Values & Beliefs

        H.R. 1963 recommends a number of amendments to the Fair Housing Act to make the current legislation: (1) more inclusive and respectful of DV/SA survivors; (2) up-to-date, by incorporating legal definitions from existing legislation and; (3) more comprehensive in its scope by implementing protections for “survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault” throughout. These recommendations are expected to provide survivors of domestic and sexual violence with some measure of protection against housing discrimination following their victimization. In consideration of the aforementioned research, it is evident these protections are necessary to provide survivors with increased levels of personal and familial safety, an increased quality of life, and an environment that is conducive for them to move-on and grow from their respective experiences.

        This bill is marked by a number of admirable values and beliefs directed towards survivors of sexual and domestic violence. These include: (1) concern for the basic survival needs of DV/SA survivors; (2) concern for survivors long-term wellbeing; (3) the belief that survivors do not stay in high-risk situations out of choice, but because there are a number of systematic barriers in place that prevent them from leaving in a timely manner, or at all; (4) the belief that these systematic barriers need to be addressed and; (5) the belief that until basic housing needs are met, trauma processing and therefore recovery are impossible to begin.

Policy Analysis

        While the intention(s) of this policy are commendable and certainly a step in the right direction, it still requires additional work before its effectiveness can be maximized. Specifically, while this bill introduces protections for DV/SA survivors, it does not discuss how these protections will be enforced. Further, it appears to have a gender bias, in that the bill does not even acknowledge the fact that men can be (and are) victimized by these crimes; nor does it discuss factors unique to male-identified survivors. Furthermore, the bill does not seem to account for other at-risk populations, such as LGBTQIA+ youth. Lastly, this bill does not seem to consider the effects of systematic racism, in that ethnic minority women are disproportionately more likely to experience SA/DV, live in poverty and/or have inadequate access to safe and affordable housing (NSVRC, 2010).

        The fact that this bill does not give special attention to populations that are disproportionately affected by DV/SA is reason for concern, as the purpose of this bill is to ensure that all individuals who have experienced DV/SA are not discriminated against in their access to safe and affordable housing. Research has shown that both sexual and ethnic minority populations are not only at an increased-risk of experiencing SA/DV, but face other forms of systematic oppression for their respective identities as well (Edwards, Sylaska, & Neal, 2015). Therefore, H.R. 1963 should give these specific populations greater attention to help mitigate the harsher impact that they are faced with (in comparison to non-minority populations) following the occurrence of their victimization.

        Currently, this legislation does not contain anything to address the effects of rape culture. This is a significant issue as the stereotypes, misconceptions, and systematic discrimination towards survivors that this bill is seeking to address stem largely from rape culture itself. Unfortunately, any legislation that seeks to address housing issues for survivors of DV/SA will be rendered less effective if the legislation itself does not include some sort of educational and advocacy component to combat the negative effects of rape cultures as well.  

Survivor Values & Beliefs

        Sexual and/or domestic violence does not discriminate amongst the lines of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, and because of this, the values and beliefs found among survivors vary widely. Thus, it is difficult to say whether or not this legislation reflects all values and beliefs found amongst survivors. However, the argument can be made that this legislation does reflect some universal human values that are intrinsic to the individual self. These include: (1) access to the resources necessary to meet basic human needs (i.e. adequate housing); (2) the right to bodily autonomy (the right to have control over one’s body); (3) freedom from discrimination and; (4) a social safety-net in which individuals can turn to for help in times of need.

        It is vitally important that we, as a society work to uphold these basic human values for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. In fact, by failing to uphold these values, we inadvertently pose a significant threat to their long-term recovery; as trauma cannot be processed until the basic human needs of an individual have been met (Shapiro, Kaslow, & Louise, 2011). Therefore, in not addressing the housing discrimination that currently exists we are doing a disservice to survivors by hindering their long-term recovery outcome.

Social Work Values & Beliefs

        The current legislation does, to an extent, align with the values and beliefs that constitute the core of social work practice. First, H.R. 1963 reflects the value of service in its aim of helping individuals in need and addressing a social problem (e.g. housing discrimination against DV/SA survivors). Secondly, this legislation is rooted in the concept of social justice, in that all individuals regardless of race, age, disability status or individual experiences deserve to have equal access to safe and affordable housing in which to live.

        Third, this bill is based on the premise that all individuals regardless of their identity or experience should be given the respect and dignity that they deserve. Further, by addressing the basic human need of shelter, this bill simultaneously promotes and enables a client to actively engage in self-determination. Finally, this bill also reflects the social work value of “importance of human relationships”, as once basic needs are met, a survivor can then begin their journey of recovery; build new relationships; and rekindle the old friendships that are often lost in the DV cycle, and in the aftermath of sexual trauma.

Economic Impact

        H.R. 1963 does not discuss the extent of costs associated with implementing and enforcing the proposed changes. However, it is likely that the return on investment vastly outweighs the initial implementation costs. As much research has studied the enormous financial burden created by SA/DV victimization in the United States.

        According to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), SA costs the USA an estimated $127 billion per year (National Institute of Justice, 1996). Furthermore, the United States Coalition Against Sexual Assault (USCASA) reports that an individual SA costs $110,000 when the factors of: (1) short term medical care ($500); (2) mental health services ($2,400); (3) lost productivity ($2,200) and; (4) pain and suffering ($104,900) are accounted for (USCASA, n.d.).

        The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) conservatively estimate that DV cost the US $9.3 billion in the year 2017 alone. Moreover, the authors note a “snowball” effect in that, experiencing domestic and sexual trauma can negatively impact all areas of life including ones financial stability, job performance, educational attainment, property loss, and access to safe and affordable housing. Lastly, the authors underline their assertion that the full scope of the impact is unknown and that it will likely always be impossible to calculate (IWPR, 2017).

        Clearly, these numbers are staggering in terms of amount. Unfortunately, the general public is typically unaware of the true cost carried by these crimes, and because of this may not advocate for further protections for survivors of these crimes. This fact highlights the necessity of further education and awareness concerning the economic toll that these crimes carry, and may help to garner further support for H.R. 1963.

Policy Proposal

        H.R. 1963 is an important bill whose implementation should be strongly considered. Its implementation may provide a powerful “safety-net” for many populations that face an increased risk of experiencing domestic and/or sexual victimization. However, as previously mentioned, additional work is necessary for H.R. 1963 to achieve maximum efficacy.

        Specifically, the creators of this bill should consider the following recommendations: (1) discuss any forms of punishment (e.g. incarceration, monetary fine) for failing to obey H.R. 1963 and how they will be enforced; (2) address the gender bias present within the bill itself by: (a) acknowledging that men (male-identified or otherwise) can and do suffer from these crimes and then modify the content of the bill to reflect this reality and; (b) address any potential factors that are unique to the experience of male-identified individuals (e.g. even greater lack of shelters for males in comparison to that of women); (3) include protections specific to higher-risk populations (e.g. LGBT youth, ethnic minorities) and; (4) implement some measure of intervention(s) in order to mitigate the negative impact that rape culture has on all persons who have experienced victimization in the form of domestic and/or sexual violence.

        In consideration of the information and suggestions above, it is clear that the next step(s) to be taken with H.R. 1963 should be to: (1) return H.R. 1963 to a “draft” form; (2) make any necessary amendments (as previously noted or otherwise) in a manner which satisfies all parties involved in the creation of this bill; (3) re-submit the bill for floor discussion and finally; (4) have house representatives vote on the bill in its new and amended form.

Suggestions for Implementation

        Creating social change at the societal, or macro level is not an easy task to undertake. Consequently, when discussing potential policy changes, it is also important to address any potential resistance to its implementation. Potential suggestions to minimize resistance will be discussed in-depth in the remainder of this section.

        First and foremost, for any social problem to change, the larger society must be aware that the problem exists. Moreover, awareness efforts should be coupled with accurate research-based education, as an educated and aware populace provide a powerful voice in initiating social change. Therefore, in order to receive further widespread support for the implementation of H.R. 1963, the implementation of awareness/education efforts should be strongly considered.

        Networking and/or partnering with different organizations can be an important tool in creating social change for a few reasons including: (1) acquiring additional help in raising awareness of the issue that the bill seeks to address; (2) receiving further science-based education about the issue(s) that DV/SA survivors are confronted with in finding and obtaining safe and affordable housing and; (3) being able to consult with established organizations can provide information concerning: (a) what (if anything) has already been tried to address the issue and; (b) smaller extraneous factors that further exacerbate the larger social issue. This information can and should be used to amend or address any potential factors/issues that the bill failed to account for in its original form. Consequently, the creators of this bill could significantly improve: (a) the bills survival in the legislative process and; (b) its overall effectiveness if they were to consult with agencies (e.g. NCADV[1], NAESV[2]) that provide services to individuals who have experienced DV/SA victimization.

        Finally, while the importance of research-based information cannot and should not be undermined, an argument can be made that it is equally and perhaps even more important for the voices of survivors to be heard and considered in the policy creation process. Considering and carrying out this option has a number of benefits such as: (1) hearing “straight from the source” what individuals who have been affected by the issue would like to see occur, can provide valuable feedback in regards to the strengths and weaknesses of the current legislation; (2) lending a face/name to those affected individuals brings a certain measure of “realness” to the work that is being done, and can serve to encourage and promote resilience throughout the creation and implementation process and; (3) it may help to encourage/empower survivors to find their voices and progress further in their individual recovery journey.

Conclusion

        Sexual assault and domestic violence in the United States carry a tremendous cost on our society. This cost encompasses not only a survivors physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and but a tremendous financial one as well. Specifically, it is estimated that these crimes cost the US over $100 billion dollars each year. Unfortunately, the cost does not stop here, as housing discrimination against survivors of domestic/sexual violence is a significant, widespread, and yet often unrecognized issue in the United States. This discrimination not only affects those subjected to the abuse, but can and does negatively impact innocent children as well. 

   H.R. 1963 is a bill proposed in the House of Representatives in 2017 that seeks to rectify this problem by amending the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include protections for individuals who have been victimized by DV/SA. This legislation is important to our society, and should be supported as research estimates that at least 50% of individuals who have been victimized by these crimes report becoming homeless as a direct result. Similarly, 47% of homeless children age five-years-old and under report having witnessed DV prior to becoming homeless (ACLU, 2008).

        Historically, the issue of housing discrimination has been a reality for many individuals in the US. However, it does not and should not continue to be a prominent social concern. By enacting H.R. 1963, the US would be taking one of the first steps necessary to better the lives of millions of men, women and children, while simultaneously promoting cost-savings, equality and basic human dignity.

   The importance of this legislation is undeniable, but it still requires some work in order to maximize its effectiveness. Suggestions for improvement include, but are not limited to: (1) providing further protections for disproportionately affected minority groups such as LGBT youth and women of color; (2) the inclusion and acknowledgement of the fact that men can and do experience these crimes and; (3) the implementation of an awareness/educational effort to help mitigate the negative impact that rape culture holds on this specific piece of legislation.

References

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). (2008). Domestic Violence and Homelessness. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.aclu.org/other/domestic-violence-and-homelessness

Edwards, K. M., Sylaska, K. M., & Neal, A. M. (2015). Intimate partner violence among sexual minority populations: A critical review of the literature and agenda for future

research. Psychology of Violence, 5(2), 112-121. doi:10.1037/a0038656

Fair Housing Act of 1968 Pub. L. 90-284, approved April 11, 1968

Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2017, H.R. 1963, 115th Cong. (2017)

Institute For Women's Policy Research. (2017, August). The Economic Cost of Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://iwpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/B367_Economic-Impacts-of-IPV-08.14.17.pdf

National Institute of Justice (NIJ). (1996). Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/victcost.pdf

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). (2010, January). Housing And Sexual Violence. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/NSVRC_Publications_Reports_Housing-and-sexual-violence-overview-of-national-survey.pdf

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). (2010, July). Housing & Sexual Violence. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Factsheet_Housing-and-Sexual-Violence.pdf

Shapiro, F., Kaslow, F. W., & Louise, M. (2011). Handbook of EMDR and Family Therapy Processes. John Wiley & Sons.

 United States Coalition Against Sexual Assault (USCASA). (n.d.). Economic Costs Of Sexual Assault. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from http://www.ucasa.org/cost-of-rape.pdf

Violence Against Women Act, Pub.L. 103–322, approved September 13, 1994


[1] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

[2] National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

H.R. 1963 Policy Analysis

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