October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Pennsylvania. This subject has been very much in the news with the focus being on the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice situation. Unfortunately, domestic violence is an everyday occurrence in our communities and many tragic situations are not in the headlines. When someone is the victim of domestic violence, those in the community would expect that they can turn to the local authorities for protection. What you may not realize is that those that are supposed to be there to help may actually inflict additional harm.
There are various communities in Pennsylvania that have enacted what are known as “nuisance ordinances.” These ordinances penalize a resident, tenant or landlord for requesting police or emergency assistance by allowing fines to be charged or to revoke or threaten to revoke rental licenses or impose fines. For example, the local ordinance would impose some type of penalty if the police are called to a property more than three times over a period of several months. According to the website of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (www.pcadv.org), there are 19 communities in Pennsylvania that have such ordinances, including some in Allegheny County.
This type of ordinance disproportionately impacts victims of domestic violence who call the police for help on several occasions and then find themselves the target of an eviction notice because of the calls.
One year ago in October, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives introduced House Bill 1796 sponsored by Representative Todd Stephens of Montgomery County which sought to prohibit municipalities from assessing penalties for requests for emergency assistance for domestic violence victims. That bill was passed to the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration but changes were made that reduce the effectiveness of the proposed law.
This information was publicized by the Blackburn Center Against Domestic & Sexual Violence in their recent news blast. You can learn more on their website as well at www.blackburncenter.org. This tragic problem was brought to light when the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit on behalf of Lakisha Briggs who was threatened with eviction as a resident of Norristown which has a nuisance ordinance. Because she was afraid of eviction, she did not call the police for help when her ex-boyfriend attacked her with a brick and stabbed her. She had to be airlifted to a hospital, but she still was threatened with eviction because her neighbors called 911 to try to get her help.
There should be no restrictions on victims of domestic violence who need and call 911 for help. Even if you don’t think this can happen to you or in your family, you may be the person who needs emergency help someday. Please urge your representatives to pass the Protection for Victims of Crime from Certain Municipal Ordiances legislation. Also, be mindful of the local help that is offered 24/7 by the Blackburn Center at their toll free hotline 1-888-832-2272.