The Justice Department plans to unveil a new initiative Tuesday to increase protections for women facing sexual harassment by landlords, security guards and a bevy of other rental property staff, a DOJ official tells CNN.
The new program seeks to establish a “reporting pipeline” for survivors of harassment to report abuse and raise awareness about the issue more generally.
The department will begin piloting the program in Washington and western Virginia as a start, with plans for expansion to other jurisdictions in the near future. It will be led by officials within the housing and civil enforcement section of DOJ’s civil rights division in conjunction with local law enforcement and other legal services providers.
Sexual harassment is a prohibited form of sex discrimination under federal housing law, but some studies suggest victims are less likely to come forward than those facing other forms of harassment because of less public awareness of the legal protections available and because they may fear repercussions for reporting it.
The department has resolved a number of cases involving sexual harassment in housing over the last several months, including a $150,000 settlement involving a rental property owner accused of sexual harassment in Michigan and $365,000 settlement on behalf of 14 residents and applicants who were subjected to harassment by officials at the Housing Authority in Kansas City, Kansas.
Tuesday’s new initiative is being rolled out almost nine months into President Donald Trump’s administration, despite the fact that the civil rights division does not yet have a permanent head at one of DOJ’s most high-profile posts.
Eric Dreiband, Trump’s pick to lead the division, came under a wave of criticism by certain civil rights groups given his past work defending major corporations against discrimination lawsuits, but he has said that he fully supports “protections against discrimination and our core civil rights laws,” and vows to enforce anti-discrimination laws, if confirmed.
“I fully support our nation’s civil rights laws, including protections for women against sex discrimination, and I fully agree that these protections are important, and have always believed as much,” Dreiband wrote in responses to questions for the record submitted by senators after his confirmation hearing last month.