Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Rigel Christine Oliveri, Sexual Harassment of Low-Income Women in Housing: Pilot Study Results
Sparked by the #metoo movement, we are once again having an important national discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment in America. The conversation is a necessary starting point, but it’s focus on high-status workplaces overlooks other contexts in which sexual harassment occurs. This Article focuses on one such area: the sexual harassment and exploitation of low-income women by their landlords. Although it is a significant national problem, there have been no reliable empirical studies about its nature and prevalence.
The lack of information causes difficulties. Policymakers and legislators cannot address sexual harassment in housing if they do not know basic facts about it such as how common it is, who is likely to experience and perpetrate it, and what form it takes. The law, much of which is borrowed from the employment context, remains underdeveloped and unresponsive to the unique challenges presented by housing harassment.
This Article and the Pilot Study upon which it is based seek to remedy this situation. The Study involved detailed interviews of one hundred randomly selected low-income women. These interviews reveal important insights into who is most at risk for housing harassment, the characteristics of the landlords who engage in it, the form it is likely to take, and how women respond to it.
The Study results both challenge and improve upon assumptions made by more theoretical scholarship, and lead to suggestions for changes to both law and policy. In particular, the results underscore the argument for treating sexual harassment in housing as a phenomenon that is entirely different from employment harassment, with a new framework that recognizes the economic reality of low-income housing. From a policy perspective, the results reveal the need for greater regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship, and the necessity of providing more resources to the most vulnerable renters.