BOSTON – The Attorney General 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 curtailed. These losses have forced some to seek abatements or suspensions of 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. Such behavior 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 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 impacts society’s most vulnerable populations.
“Sexual harassment in housing is illegal and despicable,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “No person should have to tolerate this behavior in order to keep a roof over his or her head. This conduct is unacceptable in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated in the midst of a pandemic. My office 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. The 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 888-221-6023 or emailing USAMA.VictimAssistance@usdoj.gov. For more information, visit www.justice.gov/crt/sexual-harassment-housing-initiative