U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr has chosen Vermont U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan to co-chair a nationwide effort to investigate and prosecute sexual harassment in housing during the pandemic. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband is the other co-chair.
Sexual harassment in housing is illegal at the federal level under the Fair Housing Act. “Certainly, the statute protects any potential victim, but they tend to be women, poor women who have limited housing options, including single mothers, and I think that that just underscores how serious the issue is,” Nolan said.
Nolan added that she can’t comment on whether her office has any active investigations in Vermont of sexual harassment in housing, but she added that it was already against the law before the coronavirus pandemic began. “It is certainly not going to be tolerated now, when so many people are suffering,” she said. “We have 30 million Americans out of work, wages curtailed — we are not going to allow a few bad actors to take advantage of those who are suffering.”
When asked why she thought the Attorney General had selected her, Nolan said she’d like to believe it was because of the Vermont U.S. Attorney’s Office’s track record. “We have a civil rights coordinator named Jules Torti who’s also our civil chief, and I think we’re known throughout the country as an office that’s very committed to the cause of civil rights enforcement,” she said.
We also reached out to Rachel Batterson, the director of Vermont Legal Aid’s Housing Discrimination Law Project. She was unable to speak with us on camera on Thursday, but in an email to us, she wrote in part:
“All housing discrimination is very hard to prove, but sexual harassment is one of the most difficult. The fact that it happens in private, without witnesses, combined with the fact that victims often feel ashamed and embarrassed or brush it off all make it more difficult to prove. The legal precedents are challenging too, because of how egregious the behavior has historically needed to be. The one thing I’d say to victims is that the type of person who sexually harasses his tenants typically has done so repeatedly to many tenants. You are not alone.”
If you’re a victim, or you know someone who is, there are two ways you can reach out to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. You can call (844) 380-6178 or you can email email@example.com.