(STL.News) – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division hosted an online roundtable today for community organizations to discuss the problem of sexual harassment in housing, U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank announced.
The event included representatives from local law enforcement agencies, legal aid offices, fair housing organizations, shelters and transitional housing providers, and other organizations that 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 Frank said. “Landlords or superintendents using the power they have over tenants to extort sexual acts, or even commit assaults, is intolerable, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative is an effort to combat sexual harassment in housing led by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, in coordination with U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the country. The goal of the Initiative is to address sexual harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, loan officers, or other people who have control over housing.
Since the launch of the initiative in 2017, the Justice Department has filed 15 lawsuits alleging a pattern or practice of sexual harassment in housing and recovered millions of dollars in damages for harassment victims. The Justice Department’s investigations frequently uncover sexual harassment that has been ongoing for years or decades. Some victims do not know that being sexually harassed by a person in control of their housing can violate federal law.