by L. Kearns communications volunteer
Sometimes, for victims of trauma and sexual assault, stable housing is the glue that holds together mental well-being. Conversely, the lack of housing can be the element that sends survivors into decline, therefore opening them up to further re-victimization. It can also be what allows someone to become a first-time victim. When care for family and children are a concern, fear of loss becomes acute. As the pandemic continues and our economy suffers, homelessness and lack of adequate housing will surely become more prevalent, thus creating perpetual fear of losing that stability. Housing has always been a “negotiating tool” for abusers to manipulate their victims. A 2006 survey of legal aid providers and rape crisis centers found “58% of respondents said at least 1 tenant reported sexual assault by a landlord.” While in another survey, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found one third of victim service providers reported up to 20% of victims and survivors struggle to find or keep housing due to sexual violence. These struggles are just further perpetuated during times of crisis. (1) Rates of sexual violence cyclically increase during states of emergency. Evidence shows natural disasters, active conflict, and health crises are situations where a second silent pandemic occurs behind closed doors. Following Hurricane Katrina, sexual assault increased by 45 percent according to reports. The effects of states of emergency increase the already high risk factors perpetuating violence against women. (2) Exacerbated by the high rates of unemployment due to the pandemic, housing is now a chronic concern. While Louisiana shows homelessness at .52 percent, this could change. (3) A Columbia University analysis predicts that the nation could see a 45 percent jump in homelessness in 2021. (4) Homelessness and housing instability are highest in Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities. There is an executive order that extends the eviction moratorium through the end of March providing some consolation. However, the moratorium doesn’t erase rent. The ugly truth is that mounting debt can inadvertently allow more victimization to occur. Evictions may be evaded at least through the end of March, but eventually tenants will have backdated rent for which they are accountable. Most property owners, compassionate to the situation, are working with renters with whatever means they can afford. However, those who are vulnerable could be targeted by execrable landlords who ask for sexual favors in exchange for back-rent. According to an article, the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) saw an up-tick in predatory incidents, “… some landlords have provided rent relief for their tenants who may be feeling financial strain given growing financial uncertainty, others are violating state and federal housing laws by demanding sexual favors in lieu of a monthly payment.” They went on to say, “In one example, a property manager was ‘offering to grant tangible housing benefits — such as reducing the rent and overlooking or excusing late or unpaid rent — to female tenants in exchange for sexual favors.’” (5) Those who do not have a support system or options can easily be exploited. Some experts predict that the pandemic will not let up until the fall. Predatory occurrences could potentially rise, however advocates and laws are on the side of anyone who may be worried about eviction. Louisiana takes a strong stand on defending the housing rights of individuals. Laws state it is illegal for anyone to threaten, coerce, intimidate or interfere with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right. The Attorney General’s Office is ready to help with housing discrimination or exploitation; they operate as a neutral third party in housing rights violation cases. If anyone feels they or someone they know have been coerced into engaging in unwanted sexual activity, then it is important to take action and file a complaint as soon as possible. Louisiana law allows only one year after an alleged violation to file a complaint with the AG’s Office. It may be difficult to come forward and disclose a traumatic situation however, advocates can confidentially assist to ease the anxiety of anyone who’s had their rights violated. In addition, they can offer guidance to work through financial crises resulting from the pandemic. LaFASA can also provide legal advocacy to answer any questions or assist with paperwork in filing a complaint. It’s important to remember that anyone, regardless of gender identity, race or age, can fall prey to an abuser. No one should ever feel shame or at fault for an abuser’s actions or intents. Please visit the AG’s website for detailed information regarding housing rights (information is in English and Spanish) or contact LaFASA for assistance.
1) https://safehousingpartnerships.org/stats (2) http://info.primarycare.hms.harvard.edu/blog/sexual-violence-and-covid (3) https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/la/ (4) https://www.latimes.com/homeless-housing/story/2020-05-14/coronavirus-unemploymenthomeless-study-increase-45-percent (5) https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/justice-dept-targets-landlords-demanding-sexual-favors-inlieu-of-rent/ar-BB136FgH