PROVIDENCE – Attorney General William P. Barr has directed U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country to investigate reports of housing-related sexual harassment resulting from the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As the country adopts drastic measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, many Americans have lost their jobs and many more have seen their wages diminish. These financial losses have impacted some Americans’ ability to pay their rent. According to a recent memo from the Attorney General, there have been reports of landlords who have responded to requests to defer rent payments with demands for sexual favors and other acts of unwelcome sexual conduct. Behavior like this is a form of sexual harassment, and is illegal under 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 by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, and others with power over housing often impacts society’s most vulnerable populations.
“Demanding sexual favors in exchange for housing – one of the most basic necessities of life – is illegal and unconscionable,” said United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman. “The idea that any American should have to submit to unwanted sexual conduct in order to have a safe place to call home is appalling at any time; in the midst of a pandemic, it is intolerable. My office and our law enforcement partners will aggressively investigate these cases.”
The Attorney’s General’s directive reaffirms the commitment that the Department of Justice made when it launched the Sexual Harassment Initiative in October 2017. That 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.
If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment by a landlord, or other person who has control over housing, resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office by calling 401-709-5010 or emailing USARI.CivilRightsComplaint@usa.doj.gov. For more information, visit www.justice.gov/crt/sexual-harassment-housing-initiative