Trying to Protect Stalking and Sex-Assault Victims From Landlord Abuse

Trying to Protect Stalking and Sex-Assault Victims From Landlord Abuse
Thinkstock file photo
Victims of stalking or sexual assault who live in a rental apartment where the crime took place aren't legally allowed to break their lease in Colorado, even if they live dangerously close to the perpetrator in question. Individuals in this situation are forced to choose between financial ruin and being traumatized again and again in a residence where their physical safety and mental well-being are at risk.

This scenario can happen any day of the week across the state. Although a 2004 law prevents landlords from including a provision in rental agreements authorizing them to "terminate the agreement or to impose a penalty on a residential tenant for calls made by the residential tenant for peace officer assistance or other emergency assistance in response to” domestic-violence incidents, no such protection is afforded victims of stalking or sexual assault.

Representative Dominique Jackson, a Democrat who serves District 42 in Arapahoe County, would like to change that. She's sponsoring a bill, on view below in its entirety, that would extend such protections to those who've been stalked or sexually assaulted. The measure is scheduled to be heard by the Colorado House of Representatives' judiciary committee at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 7, and Jackson feels that such a public discussion of the issue has been a long time coming.

In her words, "Those who deal with victims of sexual assault and stalking — victims' advocates and member organizations such as the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault — have been saying for years that this is something people are seeing. These victims have been devastated financially because they haven't had these rights. They've been asking for these rights for a very, very long time, but for whatever reason, this hasn't been brought to people's attention."

Jackson learned about this omission "while I was knocking on doors campaigning" and through conversations with counselors who support sexual-assault and stalking victims. She makes it clear that the threat to such individuals is far more than theoretical.

"Sometimes their alleged perpetrators live very close," she says. "That perpetrator could be in the same household. It could be their landlord. It could be somebody in a position of legal authority over them or someone who is supposed to be upholding the law in a more rural community, where that person might be well known and well respected."

click to enlarge Representative Dominique Jackson. - LEG.COLORADO.GOV
Representative Dominique Jackson.
At the upcoming hearing, Jackson expects there will be "some testimony on a college student who couldn't afford to move but was in a place that made her feel re-victimized and re-traumatized." Ultimately, the woman had to leave school over the situation.

On top of adding victims of sexual assault and stalking to the current law, Jackson's bill allows new ways for such people to show they qualify for it beyond a police report.

"According to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 60 percent of victims don't report what happened to police," Jackson reveals. "So there are a lot of people being re-victimized who need an alternative way to prove that they're victims so they'll be able to move on. That's why the bill includes examinations by a licensed medical professional — a doctor or nurse — and applications to the Address Confidentiality Program," a state resource whose website notes that it "provides survivors of domestic violence, sexual offenses, and/or stalking with two services: a legal substitute address for interacting with all state and local government agencies and a confidential mail forwarding service."

The bill also enshrines protections for landlords to prevent a renter who isn't actually a victim of stalking or sexual assault from taking advantage of the system — not that Jackson thinks this kind of thing happens very often. "The domestic-violence law has been on the books for a decade, and we haven't seen massive amounts of people abusing that piece of legislation in any way, shape or form," she says.

To date, Jackson says, she's heard no objections to the legislation, which is backed by groups such as the Colorado Medical Society and 9to5 Colorado, and she's hopeful it will garner bipartisan support.

"This bill is exceptionally important for both men and women who have found themselves to be victims," she says. "It's incredibly devastating to have to live in the same place where you were originally victimized."

Here's the legislation.

House Bill 17-1035

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts