Shaheen Introduces Legislation to Protect Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence from Housing Discrimination

December 20, 2019

**The Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2019 would set a nationwide standard that survivors cannot be evicted or otherwise denied access to housing for being victims of those crimes** 

**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** 

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reintroduced two pieces of legislation that would protect and empower survivors of domestic and sexual violence from housing discrimination. 

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, the 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. 

The Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2019 would build on existing legal protections in the Violence Against Women Act and the Fair Housing Act and 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. With the new protections included in this legislation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be provided clear and direct authority to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from housing discrimination. The bill would also serve as a federal model to encourage more states to adopt similar protections. 

“During a time where visibility and accountability for sexual harassment and assault is becoming more common, crimes that occur in what should be the safety and comfort of one’s home are still all too often swept under the rug,” said Senator Shaheen. “These bills are a step forward to ending the revictimization of those who have experienced these heinous crimes, making it easier for women to share their experiences and hold perpetrators accountable. Protecting and empowering survivors of sexual violence with the tools they need to recover and seek justice will continue to be a top priority for me in the Senate.” 

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives to the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2019. 

“When a woman is the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, she needs the law to be on her side. I am proud to introduce the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act to help reduce homelessness and reform unfair laws that further harm some of the most vulnerable women. As a nation, it is incumbent upon us to do everything we can to protect survivors and ensure that our legal system is working for them, not against them. This bill provides the necessary legal framework to combat housing discrimination against survivors and ensure they are protected under the Fair Housing Act. I thank Senator Shaheen who continues to be a leader in the Senate on sexual assault issues, and the broad coalition of organizations who support this critical legislation,” said Rep. Wasserman Schultz. 

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 sexually 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.  According to a National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty survey of 76 legal and social service providers who handle evictions and housing denials, more than 10% of all evictions and more than 25% of housing denials involved victims of domestic violence because of the crimes committed against them. 

Senator Shaheen has led efforts in the Senate to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her bill, the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, was signed into law in 2016 and created the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors and for the first time allowed survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. Last month, Shaheen introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act to build on the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act by incentivizing states to pass legislation that guarantees the survivors rights included in the federal legislation.