Surprise Arizona

When domestic violence is a “nuisance”

Too often, survivors of gender violence who reach out for help are punished instead — and some city housing laws require what amounts to retaliation against victims. Over at Refinery 29, ACLU attorney Sandra Park recounts the startling story of her client Nancy Markham:

Last August, Nancy Markham was shocked to learn that she and her children were about to be evicted. It wasn’t because she couldn’t make rent or because her children couldn’t keep the noise down. It was all because she called 911 when her ex-boyfriend, waving a knife, refused to leave her home in Surprise, AZ.

The day after her call, a police officer informed Ms. Markham’s property manager that she had contacted police again after other similar calls for help. While the officer acknowledged that all of the police responses to Ms. Markham’s home involved domestic violence perpetrated against Ms. Markham, he still urged the property manager to evict her.

Like far too many domestic violence survivors, Ms. Markham found herself at the mercy of a local nuisance ordinance, which is common in cities across the country. Under Surprise’s law, the city can declare a rental property a “nuisance” when there are four or more police calls within 30 days, or when two or more crimes occur there. The law makes no allowances for situations where tenants need emergency assistance, or where they are the victims of crime.

The author and her colleagues at the ACLU are suing Surprise and some of its police officers for violating Markhmam’s constitutional rights, including her right to free speech and her right to equal protection under the law. The law suit claims that the city “intentionally discriminated against women by chilling the ability of women victims of domestic violence to report crime and seek police protection and by penalizing women victims for seeking police assistance.” Markham also claimed that police officers, relying on gendered stereotypes, assumed that women victims were responsible for the violence they faced.

You can read the complaint here.


Washington, DC

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at During her four years at the site, she wrote about gender violence, reproductive justice, and education equity and ran the site's book review column. She is now a Skadden Fellow at the National Women's Law Center and also serves as the Board Chair of Know Your IX, a national student-led movement to end gender violence, which she co-founded and previously co-directed. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she is the co-editor of The Feminist Utopia Project: 57 Visions of a Wildly Better Future. She has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice at campuses across the country and on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, ESPN, and NPR.

Alexandra Brodsky was a senior editor at

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