USAO Hosts Roundtable on Sexual Harassment in Housing
HOUSTON - The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Southern District of Texas and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division hosted a roundtable today for community organizations to discuss the problem of sexual harassment in housing, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
The event included personnel from legal aid offices, fair housing organizations, shelters and transitional housing providers, who often work with vulnerable populations and are most likely to become victims of such harassment.
The DOJ, through USAOs and the Civil Rights Division, enforces 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 the law prohibits.
“Sexual harassment in housing - which typically involves a landlord extorting sexual favors from vulnerable tenants - is an egregious violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Patrick. “My office is dedicated to uncovering such violations where they exist and using every available tool to stop this unlawful and despicable behavior.”
The roundtable is part of DOJ’s Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative. It seeks to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment in housing, increase awareness of enforcement efforts - both among survivors and those to whom they report - and collaborate with federal, state and local partners to increase reporting and help survivors quickly and easily connect with federal resources.
The USAO is working closely with the Civil Rights Division to ensure people are aware of options to help victims experiencing sexual harassment or who experienced sexual harassment in housing in the past. Today’s roundtable was just such an example designed to increase awareness and build strong partnerships in the community and combat this problem together.
While most people are familiar with the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, harassment also occurs in housing which the Fair Housing Act prohibits. DOJ 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.
Unfortunately, many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported. The 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.
In October 2017, the Justice Department launched the initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing. In April 2018, the Department announced the nationwide rollout of the initiative, including three major components: a new joint Task Force with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to combat sexual harassment in housing, an outreach toolkit to leverage the Department’s nationwide network of U.S. Attorney’s Offices, and a public awareness campaign, including the launch of a national Public Service Announcement.
Since launching the initiative, the Justice Department has filed nine lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing. The Justice Department has filed or settled 14 sexual harassment cases since January 2017, and has recovered over $2.2 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.
DOJ encourages 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 emailing them.