By: Elisabeth Ashe
Landlords who exploit, harass or bully tenants into trading rent for sex is nothing new, but, with large swaths of community now being unemployed or in financial distress, it has made even more people vulnerable. In fact, it is prevalent the world over. You might even say that with the arrival of COVID-19, it has become as much of a pandemic as the disease itself.
Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, said her office has received more reports of landlords sexually harassing their tenants in the last two weeks than it had in the two years since she started working there.
In the case of Judy White of NL, her landlord started harassing her for sex when her boyfriend left the 4-bedroom house they were sharing. The double whammy of COVID-19 and the loss of her job found White in a desperate situation, no longer able to afford the rent. What followed were many weeks of harassment and threats and at one point she almost gave in to his demands. Ultimately, White packed her belongings and left. Her story, which garnered coverage across the country, has opened up the floodgates of complaints from women experiencing the same issues with landlords.
CTV News in Edmonton Alberta unearthed the prevalence of some landlords advertising on sites such as Craigslist, with ads like Free Rent For The Right Women or Free Rent For Girlfriend Services.
When an undercover reporter, Angela Jung, answered one such ad, she discovered that her rent would be free in exchange for sexual favours. Further discussion unfolded the terms that encounters would be at his discretion and when he was home from his out of town jobs, once or twice a week.
For a woman desperate for a roof over her head, the relationship is never fully consensual, according to Kate Quinn, a member of a woman’s advocacy group in Edmonton. Quinn maintains there is no grey area in this instance and, in her opinion, the landlord is breaking the law.
With the economic downturn in provinces like Alberta, due in part to COVID-19, and gender-gapped wages, it is a situation that is becoming more prevalent. Landlords who may be what is known as “serial offenders” generally target women who are of a lower economic status and are vulnerable to further abuse in a variety of ways, such as single mothers. Some of the women may already be survivors of past domestic abuse they are fleeing or have fled in the past or are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Others are either leaving women’s shelters or have been denied access due to overcrowding and lack of beds. This leaves them with few options. They are often desperate for any housing situation or they face homelessness.
Although hard data is not readily available, part of the problem is that the issue is largely underreported. Unfortunately, in many cases, their dealings with law enforcement or government agencies leave them mistrustful and afraid to report crimes for fear of being charged themselves.
For more articles of a similar thought, check out these reports:
Aviles, Gwen. (April 17, 2020). Landlords are targeting vulnerable tenants to solicit sex in exchange for rent, advocates say. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/landlords-are-targeting-vulnerable-tenants-solicit-sex-exchange-rent-advocates-n1186416
Jamieson, Amber. (April 15, 2020). Landlords are Alledgedly Asking For Sex From Tenants Who Cant Afford To Pay Rent Right Now. Buzzfeed News. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/amberjamieson/landlords-sexual-harassment-coronavirus
Ockerman, Emma. (April 24, 2020). The Department of Justie is Going After Landlords Asking Tenants for Sex When They Cant Pay Rent. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/qjd7mm/the-department-of-justice-is-going-after-landlords-asking-tenants-for-sex-when-they-cant-pay-rent
Mullin, Malone. (May 5, 2020). Sex-for-rent offers quietly persist in N.L. - and this tenant dropped everything to escape it. CBC.
Thomas Reuters Foundation. (May 21, 2020). “I HAD NO CHOICE”: Sex for rent rises with COVID-19 poverty. Canoe.com. https://canoe.com/news/world/i-had-no-choice-sex-for-rent-rises-with-covid-19-poverty