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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sex For Rent

     On April 24, 2020, United States Attorney General William Barr, in a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys across the country, instructed federal prosecutors to pursue cases involving landlords accused of coercing their COVID-19 era tenants into giving them sex instead of rent money. "This behavior is not tolerated in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated now, "the attorney general wrote.

     The federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual harassment by landlords which includes taking sexual advantage of women who cannot afford to pay their rent. (Women who voluntarily offer landlords sex in lieu of rent is, under the laws of most states, are acts of prostitution. These cases, however, are never prosecuted.)

     In Hawaii, the state has an organization called the Commission on the State of Women. According to Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of the agency, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, ten cash-strapped female tenants have accused their landlords of soliciting sex in lieu of rent. Jabola-Carolus said more cases of this nature have been reported during the pandemic than in the past two years.

     In Chicago, Illinois, Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities, a legal aid fair housing agency, reported that her organization has seen a threefold increase in housing-related sexual harassment cases since the coronavirus shutdown. According to the legal director, "landlords have been taking advantage of the financial hardships many of their tenants have in order to coerce them into a sex-for-rent agreement which is absolutely illegal."

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