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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Iowa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 20, 2018

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa Hosts Roundtable Discussion with More Than 20 Community Organizations on Combatting Sexual Harassment in Housing

SIOUX CITY, IA – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District if Iowa and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division hosted a roundtable today for community organizations to discuss the problem of sexual harassment in housing, United States Attorney Pete Deegan announced.

“Sexual harassment in housing is often underreported, but it is an egregious violation of a person’s right to fair housing,” Deegan said.  “Through this roundtable, we hope to increase awareness of this problem and ensure there are resources available for victims of harassment.  No one should have to fear being harassed or assaulted by unscrupulous landlords or superintendents who abuse the power they have over tenants.”

The roundtable included representatives from over 20 different community organizations, including the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Iowa Legal Aid, Sioux City Human Rights Commission, Iowa Attorney General’s Office, Sioux City Housing Authority, Siouxland Community Foundation, National Association of Social Workers, Sioux City Veterans Affairs, HUD-VA Supportive Housing, Goosmann Law Firm, Briar Cliff University, Western Iowa Tech Community College, Siouxland CARES, Sioux City BOOST, Emerging Women, Disability Resource Center of Siouxland, Hope Haven, Institute for Community Alliances, Sanford Center, Warming Shelter, Foodbank of Siouxland, Goodwill of the Great Plains, Siouxland District Health, and Mary J. Treglia Community House.  These organizations were invited because they often work with vulnerable populations who are most likely to become victims of sexual harassment in housing.

The Department of Justice, through the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Civil Rights Division, enforces the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Act.

In October 2017, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing.  On April 12, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the nationwide expansion of that initiative and the formation of a joint task force with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to address this issue. The Justice Department’s initiative seeks to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment in housing, increase awareness of the Justice Department’s 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 United States Attorney’s Office is working closely with the Civil Rights Division to spread the word here in the Northern District of Iowa about options to help victims who experience sexual harassment in housing.  Roundtable discussions like the one that U.S. Attorney Pete Deegan hosted today are one way to increase awareness and build strong partnerships in the community to combat this problem together.

Local community organizations, such as local law enforcement, legal aid offices, fair housing organizations, shelters, and transitional housing providers can identify the misconduct and recommend that victims report sexual harassment to the Civil Rights Division.  Not only should victims of sexual harassment be aware of the Justice Department’s enforcement efforts, but people or organizations they may tell about the sexual harassment should also know where to refer these victims to report the misconduct.  Local police departments or legal aid offices may be able to help victims, if the behavior is a crime or if there is an imminent eviction.  In addition, organizations should recommend that the victim report the harassment to the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

While most people are familiar with the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, harassment also occurs in housing, and the Fair Housing Act prohibits it.  The Justice Department 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 their sexual overtures.

Since January 2017, the Justice Department has filed or settled ten sexual harassment cases and recovered over $1.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.  Many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported. The Justice Department’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years or decades and identify numerous victims who never reported the conduct to federal authorities.

The Department 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.gov.

Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office at https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndia/page/file/1081371/download or 600 4th Street, Suite 670, Sioux City, IA 51101.

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Topic(s): 
Community Outreach
Component(s): 
Updated July 23, 2018