We’ve all seen the stories about selfish profiteers who exploit Covid-19 fears by peddling fake or untested treatment that purportedly ward off Covid-19 or cures it.
But lately, we at Horowitz Law have seen even more startling stories about a different kind of pandemic predators – landlords who exploit desperate renters by seeking sex in exchange for payment leniency.
Trying to sexually exploit the vulnerable, at any time under any circumstances, is of course despicable. But doing so during a health and financial crisis like this is even worse.
A BuzzFeedNews headline tells it all: “Her Landlord Asked To Spend The Night With Her After She Lost Her Job And Couldn’t Afford Rent”
Gail Savage is a now-unemployed Indianapolis bartender raising a two year old. Via text, she warned her landlord she couldn’t pay April rent until her federal stimulus check arrived. He messaged back asking her if she would “stay all night” with him. At first, she assumed he’d texted the wrong number. But in more texts, he made his coercive sexual intent clear.
While women are most often victimized, it happens to men too. Another Indianapolis renter, 20 year old Jerry Miles, also told BuzzFeed his landlord threatened to rape him, bring friends along (insinuating they would gang-rape him) and told him he and his friends would have to do it every day until the debt was paid.
Some 33 million people have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began. Advocates say this means more tenants are vulnerable and at risk of harassment than ever before.
And tragically, this doesn’t just happen here and doesn’t just happen in pandemics. Sexual crimes in war zones are also painfully common.
In the Sunday New York Times, we read about a horrific “Sophie’s Choice” facing some Pakistani families.
Shelling has increased recently along part of the India – Pakistan border, “sending more families rushing to community bunkers when the alarm sirens ring. But some families will be leaving girls and young women behind in their vulnerable homes — choosing to risk the falling shells rather than face the sexual assault that is epidemic in the cramped bunkers.”
Here’s one such case:
“When mortars started slamming into her village in the Neelum Valley on the Pakistani-held side in August, Mehnaz and her family fled to a musty bunker owned by her neighbor, she said. Dozens of people were crammed in for hours until the shelling subsided.
“One of the men began touching me,” said Mehnaz, who like others interviewed by The New York Times asked that only part of her name be used because of the stigma of sexual assault. “It was dark and all the parents were concerned about the shelling. No one was paying attention.”
She spent fearful hours trying to swat away the man’s groping hands and failing all too often. When the firing stopped and her family returned home, Mehnaz told her mother what had happened.
“She said she could not do anything,” Mehnaz said, angry. The man who molested her owned the bunker. Mehnaz’s mother worried that he would cut the family off from that speck of safety if they complained.
It’s hard to put into words just how disturbing this awful behavior is. . .
We at Horowitz Law are grateful to those who are stepping up to help in these heart-breaking situations, including the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and The National Fair Housing Alliance.
We’re also grateful to Ms. Savage, Mr. Miles, Mhenaz and others who are exposing these abhorrent landlords and the journalists who help them do so.
(Staff at a New York group offers renters this advice: try to document any forms of harassment, if possible, such as taking video or recording a conversation; save copies of any texts or emails, and make multiple copies to share with a lawyer or friend; and keep any letters from a landlord or take photos of them.)
Ms. Savage, the Indianapolis bartender, hopes to sue her landlord. We hope she does.
And if you or someone you knows has suffered or is suffering this kind of bald-faced intimidation, exploitation or abuse, we hope you’ll consider calling us here at Horowitz Law.