Combating Sexual Harassment in Housing

January 8, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

It has been almost one year since I was given the honor of leading the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and its efforts to support the important work that you do every day to assist survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.  As we begin 2018, we remain committed to the mission of the Violence Against Women Act, continuing our partnership with you, and exploring new opportunities to meet the needs of survivors. 

OVW has a longstanding commitment to addressing the housing needs of victims, from transitional housing programs to protections from eviction or access to emergency transfers in publicly assisted housing.  OVW often hears from grantees and survivors about sexual assault and sexual harassment that occur in housing, particularly rental housing.  Sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, and others with power over housing often affects the most vulnerable populations – single mothers, women who are financially unstable, and women who have suffered sexual or domestic violence in their past.  And victims often do not know to whom to turn for help.

In October 2017, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced an initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing.  The Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing Act, and sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Act.  The Civil Rights Division brings cases each year involving egregious conduct, including allegations that defendants have exposed themselves sexually to current or prospective tenants, requested sexual favors in exchange for reduced rents or making necessary repairs, made unrelenting and unwanted sexual advances to tenants, and evicted tenants who resisted these coercive tactics. 

The Civil Rights Division can recover damages for harassment survivors – in 2017 alone, it settled four sexual harassment cases, recovering over $1 million for survivors.  Yet, many instances of sexual harassment in housing go unreported.  The Division’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years or decades and identify numerous survivors who never reported the conduct to federal authorities. 

OVW is partnering with the Civil Rights Division to spread the word about options to help victims experiencing sexual harassment.  Our grantees, such as local police departments, legal aid offices, rape crisis centers, and domestic violence shelters or transitional housing providers can recommend that survivors report the harassment to the Civil Rights Division.  OVW will host webinars with the Civil Rights Division to share information with our grantees.

The Civil Rights Division’s initiative seeks to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment in housing, increase awareness of its enforcement efforts both among survivors and those they may report to, and collaborate with federal, state, and local partners to increase reporting and help survivors quickly and easily connect with federal resources.  The Civil Rights Division encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Division by calling 1-844-380-6178 or emailing fairhousing@usdoj.govDownload a PDF containing two flyers developed as part of the Division’s initiative that you can distribute or display in your office.  Please contact the Civil Rights Division if you would like additional resources.

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Updated January 8, 2018