Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Empower Survivors, Improve Reporting of Sexual Harassment in Housing

July 20, 2017

**The Combating Sexual Harassment in Housing Act would make it easier for victims to bring forward certain cases of sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act**

 

**SHAHEEN: Women across the country are suffering in silence simply because they lack the resources to move or find alternate housing.**

 

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) re-introduced legislation to establish protections against sexual harassment in rental housing. Building on existing protections in the Fair Housing Act, the Combating Sexual Harassment in Housing Act would make it easier for victims, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to bring cases of sexual harassment to court. Specifically, her legislation would amend the Fair Housing Act to make egregious types of harassment against a tenant automatic violations of the statute, including unwelcome touching of a sexual nature or groping, or other actions of a sexual nature intended to be coercive, threatening or intimidating. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Al Franken (D-MN) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) are co-sponsors.

 

“Sexual harassment is a direct means of intimidation and when it occurs in the home, it can be extremely dangerous,” said Senator Shaheen. “While most women understand the enormous challenge our country faces with sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s critical that we also recognize these crimes are happening in rental housing. Women across the country are suffering in silence simply because they lack the resources to move or find alternate housing. It’s unacceptable that women are forced to decide between giving in to unwanted sexual advances or becoming homeless. The Combating Sexual Harassment in Housing Act represents an important step to make it easier for women to report these offenses, and I hope it will start a conversation that inspires more women to come forward so we can deliver justice. We must work together to empower survivors with the tools they need to rebuild and hold those responsible for committing heinous crimes accountable.”

 

Sexual harassment, while recognized as a pervasive issue in the workplace, remains under-acknowledged in the home and is believed to be widely underreported because of its disproportionate impact on low-income, minority women. Many advocates and academics who work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have been sounding the alarm about the dangers that sexual harassment in the home presents for their clients, who are often heads of households without financial means to relocate. Tenants are particularly vulnerable because abusive landlords have constant unrestricted access to apartments and can enter unannounced to stalk or intimidate a tenant. These landlords also threaten retaliation or eviction knowing the victim has no alternative housing available.

 

Sexual harassment in housing is strongly correlated with criminal sexual assault. According to a 2005 study of rape crisis centers and legal aid providers, 79% of women who had been sexual assaulted by a landlord reported that, prior to the assault, the landlord also sexually harassed the tenant by doing one of the following: sexually propositioning the tenant, stalking the tenant, or initiating unwanted sexual contact with the tenant. With this legislation, Senator Shaheen hopes that more attention to early reporting of sexual harassment will prevent future cases of sexual assault.

 

Senator Shaheen has been a leader in the Senate on legislation to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her Sexual Assault Survivors’ Right Act to establish basic rights for survivors of sexual assault was unanimously passed by the Senate and the House and signed into law by President Obama. Senator Shaheen has also introduced legislation, the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act, to establish a nationwide standard that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault cannot be evicted or denied access to housing solely for being victims of those crimes.