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The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division hosted a roundtable on Wednesday, April 11, for community organizations, U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan announced.
The Department of Justice, through the U.S. Attorney’s Offices 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 prohibited by the Act. 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 violence in their past.
This week’s event included state and local government agencies, legal service providers, non-profits, fair housing organizations, and shelters and transitional housing providers. Each organization was invited because they often work with Vermont’s most vulnerable populations, who could also become victims of sexual harassment in housing.
“For landlords, property managers, or others to take advantage of a person’s vulnerability by premising their access to housing on sex or sexual harassment is unconscionable,” U.S. Attorney Nolan said. She noted that “our federal civil rights laws are designed to protect people against terrible abuses, and it is part of the job and mission of this office to make sure those laws are enforced.”
In October 2017, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division announced the Sexual Harassment Initiative, an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont is collaborating with the Civil Rights Division to spread the word about options to help victims experiencing sexual harassment. Because victims may not be aware that the conduct they have experienced violates the Fair Housing Act or may not know where to turn, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Justice hope to collaborate with community organizations in Vermont to raise awareness and help victims report abuse.
The Justice Department brings cases each year involving egregious conduct, including allegations that defendants have 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. In 2017, the Justice Department recovered more than $1 million in damages for harassment victims. 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. Many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported.
The Roundtable was coordinated by Jules Torti of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont and Lauren Marks of the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division of DOJ.
The Justice Department’s initiative seeks to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment in housing, increase awareness of its enforcement efforts – both among victims and those they may report to – and collaborate with federal, state, and local partners to increase reporting and help victims quickly and easily connect with federal resources. The Department encourages anyone who has experienced sexual harassment in housing, or knows someone who has, to contact the Division by calling (844) 380-6178 or emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may also file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by filling out the Complaint Form, which can be found at https://www.justice.gov/usao-vt.