Advocates say they have seen a spike in reports of landlords soliciting sex in exchange for rent from vulnerable tenants, NBC News reports.
The spike in solicitation comes as unemployment has climbed to more than 22 million in the span of just four weeks since businesses began shutting their doors during the coronavirus pandemic. The massive unemployment spike has nearly wiped out the 22.4 million jobs created in the 11-year recovery that followed the last recession in 2009.
That has left many renters wondering how they will afford to pay their landlords, with many saying state rent freezes and the federal stimulus checks will not help long-term.
The executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, Khara Jabola-Carolus, told NBC News that her office has seen a growing number of reports of landlords harassing their tenants. In some cases, she said landlords are suggesting sex in exchange for their rent, sending lewd messages and even offering to move in with their tenants.
"Landlord coercion has always been a reality, but we've never seen anything like this," Jabola-Carolus told NBC. "The coronavirus creates the perfect conditions for landlords who want to do this because not only are people being instructed to stay home, but the virus has added to the economic stress with people losing their jobs, especially in Hawaii, which is driven by tourism."
A top attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union's Women's Rights Project told NBC that renters facing such conditions should file a police report and seek help through local resources such as human rights commissions, noting that landlord harassment is illegal under federal law.
Threats by landlords to raise rent if tenants refuse sex and solicitations to cover rent costs are just another dangerous side effect of the coronavirus pandemic.
Police departments across the country have also reported a surge in domestic violence during stay-at-home orders, as victims are forced to be with their abusers.
Experts have also said unemployment, health concerns and the added stress of having children at home and out of school can exacerbate abuse conditions.