EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Sexual predators are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the FBI is urging people to know their rights.
As millions struggle to recover lost wages, some landlords are soliciting sexual favors in exchange for rent.
Civil Rights Supervisory Special Agent Eddie Nieto says many landlords have responded to tenants’ sudden job loss with compassion, while others see an opportunity.
“National reports indicate that some landlords have demanded unwanted sexual favors and other sexual advances in exchange for the suspension of their tenants’ rent,” said Special Agent Nieto in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
Sexual harassment by a housing provider is illegal, and tenants are protected under federal law.
In 2017, the Department of Justice implemented an initiative aimed to combat sexual harassment by landlords, property owners, maintenance personnel, and anyone else with leverage on housing concerns.
“These types of criminal acts of sexual harassment in housing continue to go unreported but should not be endured by anyone,” said Special Agent Nieto, “and certainly not tolerated when people are at their most vulnerable and under economic stress.”
In April, U.S. Attorney General William Barr called for an investigation into the rampant reports of landlord sexual assault pursuant to the pandemic.
“Such behavior is despicable and it is illegal. And the Department of Justice has not hesitated to intervene when clear misconduct occurs,” wrote General Barr in a memo.
The Assistant Attorney General For Civil Rights Eric Dreiband and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont are overseeing the national effort to mitigate these sexual assaults.
People are protected under federal law, Title 42 USC Section 3631 Criminal Interference with Right to Fair Housing and Title 18 USC 245 Federally protected Activities that are both punishable with fines and up to ten years in prison.
Special Agent Nieto says civil rights are a top priority of the FBI as well as preventing public corruption.
At present, the FBI in El Paso is not investigating any reports of landlord sexual harassment.
If someone believes they are a victim of landlord sexual harassment or any other housing personnel, they should document the harassment as best they can by saving or screenshotting text messages, voicemails, and emails. Victims should also provide witness information if available.
For more information on how to report sexual harassment by a landlord, click here.