One in 10 low-income women sexually harassed by landlord, study finds

low income housing
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

During the past year, thousands of women have shared their stories about sexual harassment and assault as part of the Me Too movement. Although many of the stories have often been tied to superiors in the workplace, new research from the University of Missouri reveals another common threat to women, especially low-income women—their landlords.

In a recent pilot study that included interviews with randomly selected, low-income , 10 percent of participants reported being sexually harassed by their landlords. The harassment included being asked to trade sex for rent, lewd comments, home invasions and indecent exposure. The women were almost all in their 20s when the incidents occurred, and they were disproportionately likely to be minorities.

"While the sample was limited, I think the results of this study should be a wake-up call to policymakers," said study author Rigel Oliveri, a professor in the MU School of Law. "Low-income women are easy prey for landlords who seek to exploit them for sex."

The women interviewed in the study were all living in private rental housing, and only one woman reported the harassment to police. The others said they did not tell anyone because they feared jeopardizing their housing or they did not know where to direct a complaint.

Oliveri interviewed 100 women for the study that was published in the Missouri Law Review. She said that although it is difficult to generalize the results broadly, she believes a similar pattern would emerge with a larger sample. According to Census data, more than 16 million women living in poverty in the United States.

"The next step is to conduct a survey like this on the larger level so that we have a clearer picture of what is actually happening," Oliveri said. "Reliable statistics on sexual harassment in housing are elusive. Not only is under-reporting rampant, but there has never been a comprehensive nationwide study of the issue."

Oliveri hopes that by better understanding the scale of the problem, it will help lawmakers enact laws that provide greater landlord oversight, which is lightly regulated in most jurisdictions. She also hopes that work like hers will lead to strengthened enforcement and more public options for low-income women.

"The Me Too movement has sparked an important national discussion about the prevalence of sexual harassment in American society and the ways in which powerful people can use their positions both to exploit their vulnerable targets and to escape the consequences of their actions," Oliveri said. "This conversation is a necessary starting point, but the focus on high-status workplaces overlooks other contexts in which sexual occurs."

Explore further

Sexual harassment and assault linked to worse physical/mental health among midlife women

More information: Rigel C. Oliveri, Sexual Harassment of Low-Income Women in Housing: Pilot Study Results. Mo. L. Rev.
Citation: One in 10 low-income women sexually harassed by landlord, study finds (2018, November 2) retrieved 25 May 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Nov 02, 2018
That is why rich men like to keep others in poverty..... so they can exchange the basics needs for sex..... oh, but the porn president is different, the women that degrade themselves in porn and whom he pays for sex, those women must be very rich women that just wanted to do porn lol... that is why he and his friends are so active in relieving porverty (sarcasms, of course)

Nov 02, 2018
There was an article on here a few months ago. About the social and economic benefits of paying everybody a basic minimal income.

The reason this would be unacceptable in our society is that it reduces the power of abusive employers.

If you could just walk away from an asshole boss? What would be the incentive for weak men to strive for power, if no one is forced to obey them?

Nov 04, 2018
Wasn't one of those landlords the current U.S. president?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more