‘I HAD NO CHOICE’: Sex for rent rises with COVID-19 poverty

LONDON, May 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A growing number of landlords are asking tenants for sex in exchange for housing, because coronavirus locks and job cuts have made it difficult for many to pay their rent, housing experts said.

A survey by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) of more than 100 fair housing groups fighting discrimination in the United States found that 13% had seen an increase in sexual harassment complaints during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If I didn’t have sex with him, he would turn me off,” a woman turned off by her property manager told the NFHA in a podcast on their website. “As a single mother, I had no choice. I didn’t want to lose my housing. “

Sex for rent has come under scrutiny in the United States and Great Britain in recent years due to rising housing costs. Charities have noticed an increase in online advertisements offering rent-free accommodation in exchange for sexual favors.

Under the new coronavirus pandemic, millions of people worldwide have lost their jobs or income because lockouts and travel restrictions have forced many companies to close their doors.

Authorities in North America and Europe have introduced cash benefits, banned rent freezes, and prohibited evictions to protect people from homelessness.

“People who are very vulnerable to eviction, especially during a pandemic, are sometimes faced with impossible choices,” said NFHA general adviser Morgan Williams, who protects tenants from housing discrimination.

“The predators in the housing context … are addressing that vulnerability,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Data on the prevalence of rented sex is scarce. With limited awareness of the problem, and legal uncertainties that mean victims can experience prostitution, abuses are often not reported and unpunished, housing experts said.

A 2018 study by Shelter England, a housing charity, found that around 250,000 women in the country had been asked for sexual favors instead of rent in the past five years.

Wera Hobhouse, a UK legislator campaigning against “sextortion” – abuse of power for sexual benefit – said sex for rent is likely on the rise because people desperately wanted to stay home while closed.

“The financial difficulties many in the UK have experienced as a result of COVID-19 will lead to more people being forced to accept these schemes as an alternative to becoming homeless at the worst possible time,” said Hobhouse.

NFHA’s Williams said many women have not reported sexual harassment from landlords because they feared losing their housing or struggled with other issues such as poverty.

“It is difficult to deal with complaints in the current climate,” he said.

Kaarin Long, a woman attorney for The Advocates for Human Rights, a United States-based human rights organization, said many hit victims were already vulnerable, including survivors of sex trafficking, ex-prisoners, and ethnic minorities.

“It’s being kept under the table, it’s being kept quiet because those people don’t like working with formal systems because formal systems were not good for them in the past,” she said.

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