The Safe Homes Act (SHA) is designed to protect survivors from exactly this type of abuse and enduring harassment. The SHA allows survivors to end leases early or change locks when they are facing a credible threat of domestic or sexual violence or have experienced sexual violence where they live.
And yet the building would do nothing. Because the violence she’d experienced didn’t fit into their expectations for domestic violence and sexual violence.
Selena* had been in a same-sex relationship. She reached out to the property manager. “Crickets. Crickets. Heard nothing.” The property manager commented that they did not get involved in disputes between roommates. But Selena and her former partner weren’t roommates.
And her experience was all too common. Jackie Zarack Koriath, The Network’s Director of Housing Advocacy, sees this often. “The violence that she experienced was physical, was serious, was life-threatening… but she was facing this barrier of people perceiving her relationship as non-threatening because she was partnered with another woman.” With “any relationship that doesn’t fit that cis/hetero form,” many are prone to discounting survivors’ experiences, notes Jackie.
The property should not have allowed Selena’s perpetrator to move into the same building. And they should have allowed Selena to leave promptly, with no repercussions, when it became clear that she needed to leave for her safety.
Instead, “I am a victim and now I’m being victimized again because my property is not upholding the law.”
Fortunately, there was one more step. Selena was working with a legal advocate and a counselor at a Network member organization. And they were aware of Jackie’s expertise in ensuring survivors can access their fair housing rights. The advocate connected Selena and Jackie.
Swiftly, when Jackie got involved, the building’s tone changed. The case law and credentials were the extra push the building needed to comply. They allowed Selena to move out without a penalty. And she has been able to move and begin to process and rebuild.
Without support like this, many survivors are forced to make heartbreaking decisions—whether to continue experiencing harassment and abuse from perpetrators or face unaffordable penalties for pursuing safety.
Jackie has worked with 42 survivors in the last year to address critical housing safety issues. Beyond direct support for survivors, Jackie has also been busy training over 1000 anti-gender-based violence advocates, housing providers, and legislators about protections for survivors under Illinois and federal law. She helped Evanston pass a fair housing ordinance protecting survivors of domestic violence, provided assistance and support to a coalition that will rapidly rehouse 190 families that have experienced domestic violence, and mapped where gender-based violence is occurring in subsidized housing in Chicago.
Jackie—and the rest of us at the Network—do our work best in collaboration with you. There are three big things you can do this holiday season to support Selena and other survivors.
- Show visible support for vulnerable community members facing gender-based violence. Visible support—flags, welcoming messages, intentional messaging about inclusive communities—go a long way in making folks feel safe to reach out for help and feel that they will be believed.
- Start conversations in your community about the many forms gender-based violence can take. Collectively, we need to broaden our understanding and expectations around gender-based violence so we can respond swiftly when survivors share their needs.
- Donate to our Survivor Crisis Fund. Through this fund, we help survivors access safe housing first, so they can begin to heal. Help us continue to support survivors in gaining more options, so they have the stability to recover from the violence they have experienced.
Wishing you warmth, cozy and festive times, and the space to celebrate (or not celebrate) however is best for you.
We’ll see you in 2023,
*Pseudonym chosen by the survivor to protect her anonymity.