Slaves for Rent: Sexual Harassment in Housing as Involuntary Servitude
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Recognizing the various shortcomings of the FHA when applied in the context of post-acquisition harassment in general, and sexual harassment in particular, this Article explores an alternative vehicle for victims of such abuse: the Thirteenth Amendment. Ratified in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment provided a formal legal end to African chattel slavery across the United States. But the Thirteenth Amendment has legal importance beyond the abolition of slavery. The Amendment was and remains both a powerful liberating force and a guarantor of fundamental rights for all Americans. In particular, the text of the Thirteenth Amendment extends its reach beyond slavery to explicitly prohibit all forms of involuntary servitude, regardless of the victim's race, gender, or socio-economic background. The true breadth of the Amendment makes it an important tool in the eradication of modern forms of involuntary servitude-including the abusive and sexually coercive relationships that can be created between landlords and their poor, marginalized victims.Section II begins the analysis by defining what constitutes sexual harassment in the housing context and attempting to quantify the problem using measurements based on empirical studies, governmental and housing advocacy data, and investigative journalism. Section III briefly outlines the traditional vehicle for bringing claims of residential sexual harassment in federal court, the FHA, as well as its potential shortcomings and limitations in this context- including the argument gaining traction with some federal courts that the FHA has no application whatsoever to claims of post-acquisition harassment. Against that backdrop, Section IV explores the possible applicability of the Thirteenth Amendment to claims of sexual harassment in housing. In particular, Section IV calls for a broad but textually accurate reading of the Thirteenth Amendment to trigger the full extent of the Amendment's protections. Through the lens of the Thirteenth Amendment, sexual harassment of low-income, vulnerable women can reasonably be viewed as involuntary servitude.
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