U.S. Attorney’s Office Hosts Roundtable Discussion on Combatting Sexual Harassment in Housing
Event part of nationwide Department of Justice initiative aimed at increasing awareness and reporting
SIOUX FALLS, SD – United States Attorney Ron Parsons announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota hosted a roundtable discussion regarding Sexual Harassment in Housing. Today’s event, held in conjunction with National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, was the first of its kind in South Dakota.
The event brought together local law enforcement, legal services providers, public housing authorities, and other non-profit organizations who work with South Dakota’s vulnerable populations, specifically in the areas of housing, homelessness, and domestic violence. Participants discussed how they see such problems manifesting within the Sioux Falls area, and brainstormed ways in which local entities might collaborate to combat them.
Although always illegal and unacceptable, sexual harassment tends to be particularly underreported in the housing context.
“For landlords or property managers to try to use the power they have over tenants to extort sexual favors, or even commit assaults, is beyond reprehensible,” said U.S. Attorney Parsons. “No person should have to tolerate unwanted sexual advances in order to keep a roof over his or her head. Our office is dedicated to uncovering such violations wherever they exist and vigorously enforcing the law.”
The Department of Justice, through U.S. Attorney’s Offices and the Civil Rights Division, is charged with enforcing the Fair Housing Act. In October 2017, the Civil Rights Division announced a new initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing, and launched pilot programs in D.C. and the Western District of Virginia. On April 12, 2018, the Division rolled out a national initiative. The initiative seeks to increase efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners. As part of the initiative, the Department of Justice is working to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment and collaborate with local law enforcement, legal services providers, public housing authorities, and other non-profit organizations to leverage their expertise in this area.
To aid in this effort, the Department of Justice is hosting a series of roundtable discussions around the country. Along with U.S. Attorney Parsons, the Sioux Falls discussion was facilitated by Lauren Miller Marks from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., James C. Whiteside from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Denver, CO, and Diana Ryan, Chief of the Civil Division, and AUSA Alison Ramsdell, Civil Rights Coordinator, both from the District of South Dakota.
April 2018 is also National Fair Housing Month and marks the 50th Anniversary of the 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 barred by the Fair Housing Act. Sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, and others who exercise power over access to housing affects the most vulnerable populations within our communities—single parents, individuals with financial difficulties, and people who have suffered sexual violence in their past. Often, these individuals do not know where to turn for help.
Local law enforcement and community organizations can assist in this effort by identifying misconduct and recommending that individuals report sexual harassment to the Department of Justice. “Our goal is greater than just prosecution,” emphasized U.S. Attorney Parsons. “We want to put an end to this kind of abuse.”
We encourage anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Civil Rights Division by calling (844) 380-6178, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals in South Dakota who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Section.