Shaheen Introduces New Legislation to Combat Sexual Harassment in Rental Housing

September 21, 2016

**The Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing Act of 2016 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 are poor** 

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced new legislation to establish protections against sexual harassment in rental housing. Building on existing protections in the Fair Housing Act, the Combat Sexual Harassment in Housing Act of 2016 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.

“Sexual harassment is a direct means of intimidation and when it occurs in the home, it can be extremely dangerous,” said Senator Shaheen. “Most women understand the enormous challenge our country faces with sexual harassment in the workplace.  It’s critical that we recognize these crimes are also happening in rental housing and they pose a real threat to tenants’ safety. Women across the country are suffering in silence simply because they are poor. Most of these women lack the resources to move or find alternate housing, and they don’t know what’s illegal and who to turn to for help, so they remain nearly invisible to the housing and justice systems. It’s unacceptable that women are forced to decide between giving in to unwanted sexual advances or becoming homeless. My legislation would 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.”

Sexual harassment, while recognized as a pervasive issue in the workplace, remains under-acknowledged1 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. 2

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.3 With this new 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 will soon go to the President’s desk following a small change by the Senate. In July, Senator Shaheen introduced legislation, the Fair Housing for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Survivors Act of 2016, to establish housing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and set a nationwide standard that survivors cannot be evicted or otherwise denied access to housing for being victims of those crimes.

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 1 Reed, Collinsworth and Fitzgerald. “There’s No Place Like Home.” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. American Psychological Association. Vol. 11, No. 3. (2005)

2 Beverly Balos. “A Man's Home Is His Castle: How the Law Shelters Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment.” 23 St. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev.77. (2004)

3 Theresa Keeley, “Landlord Sexual Assault and Rape of Tenants: Survey Findings and Advocacy Approaches.” Clearinghouse Review Journal of Poverty Law and Policy. (2006)