The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nebraska and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division hosted a roundtable Tuesday for community organizations to discuss the problem of sexual harassment in housing, U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly announced. The event included fair housing and human rights organizations and legal aid offices. Those organizations were invited because they often work with vulnerable populations who are most likely to become victims of sexual harassment in housing.
“Sexual harassment in housing is often underreported, but it is an egregious violation of a person’s right to fair housing,” U.S. Attorney Kelly said. “Landlords or superintendents using the power they have over tenants to extort sexual acts, or even commit assaults, is intolerable. Our office is dedicated to uncovering such violations where they exist and vigorously enforcing the law.”
The Department of Justice, through the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the Civil Rights Division, enforces the federal 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.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative, an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing, in October 2017 and expanded it nationwide in April 2018. The Justice Department’s initiative seeks to identify barriers to reporting sexual harassment in housing, increase awareness of the Justice Department’s enforcement efforts among people who have experienced sexual harassment in housing and those they may report to, and collaborate with federal, state, and local partners to increase reporting and help people who have experienced sexual harassment quickly and easily connect with federal resources.
Our office is working closely with the Civil Rights Division to spread the word here in Nebraska about options to help people experiencing sexual harassment or who experienced sexual harassment in housing in the past. Roundtable discussions like the one that U.S. Attorney Kelly hosted today are one way to increase awareness and build strong partnerships in the community to combat this problem together.
Our community organizations, such as local law enforcement, legal aid offices, fair housing organizations, shelters, and transitional housing providers can identify the misconduct and recommend that victims report sexual harassment to the Civil Rights Division. Not only should people who experience sexual harassment in housing be aware of the Justice Department’s enforcement efforts, but people or organizations they may tell about the sexual harassment should also be aware of where to refer them to report the misconduct. Local police departments or legal aid offices may be able to help victims, if the behavior is a crime or if there is an imminent eviction. In addition, organizations should recommend that the victim report the harassment to the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
While most people are familiar with the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, harassment also occurs in housing, and the Fair Housing Act prohibits it. The Justice Department brings cases each year involving egregious conduct, including allegations that defendants have exposed themselves sexually to current or prospective tenants, requested sexual acts 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.
Many instances of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported. The Justice Department’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been occurring for years or decades and identify numerous victims who never reported the conduct to federal authorities. The Department has filed or settled 16 sexual harassment cases since 1/1/2017, 11 of which allege a pattern or practice of discrimination, and has recovered over $2.6 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing..
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 at 1620 Dodge Street, Suite 1400, Omaha, 68164; phone (402) 661-3700; fax (402) 661-3081; website https://www.justice.gov/usao-ne.