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HUD joins DOJ to fight sexual harassment in housing

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On April 12, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the debut of an initiative intended to promote public awareness and increase the reporting of sexual harassment in housing.

The initiative aims to protect tenants from “harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners,” and was developed by a collaborative task force from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The pilot program for the initiative launched in October 2017 in Washington D.C. and the Western District of Virginia, and certain aspects of the program were researched additionally in the Central District of California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Vermont.

The program sought to establish effective ways to connect victims of sexual harassment in housing to organizations that could offer legal help and/or emotional support, such as law enforcement agencies, legal services, public housing agencies, and organizations specifically designed to help sexual assault victims — including housing shelters for victims of sexual violence.

Both areas tested in the pilot saw an increase of harassment reports, generating three leads in Virginia and six leads in Washington D.C. Though the DOJ recognizes that “leads and investigations do not always lead to enforcement actions,” it hopes that expanding the program across the country will help de-stigmatize reporting sexual harassment in housing — leading to more reports and subsequently, more offenders seeing ramifications.

The results from the pilot program helped establish the three major aspects of the current initiative:

  1. The partnership between the HUD and the DOJ. Five areas are highlighted in this aspect: sharing data and analysis between departments, joint training and training development, evaluation of the processes to file a public housing complaint, coordination of public relations, and joint review of federal policies.
  2. Outreach to those affected by sexual harassment in housing. The plan for outreach includes templates, counseling, and procedures garnered from pilot program feedback, and is intended to provide victims easier access to HUD and the DOJ.
  3. Public awareness. This plan involves creating a social media campaign and Public Service Announcements run by the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. The goal is to make sexual harassment in housing easily identifiable and to help victims find proper resources for their situation.

“No person should have to tolerate unwanted sexual advances in order to keep a roof over his or her head. Part of our mission at HUD is to provide safe housing and we will remain diligent in this mission to protect those we serve,” said Secretary Carson. 

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