As unemployment rates have surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a troubling new trend has emerged in Hawaii: landlords allegedly pushing unemployed tenants to pay their rent with sexual favors.
Hawaii currently has the highest unemployment rate in the country, with over one in five workers left jobless, according to an April 16 report by NBC News.
And at Hawaii’s State Commission on the Status of Women, Executive Director Khara Jabola-Carolus says complaints about these illegal “sex for rent” deals have skyrocketed in the past three weeks.
“We got more complaints [two weeks ago] than I’ve seen since I was first appointed to this position over two years ago,” Jabola-Carolus said in an interview with Oxygen.com.
Most landlords did not explicitly ask for sex in exchange for rent forgiveness, but sexually harassed their tenants in other ways, Jabola-Carolus explained.
One woman said she texted her landlord about her rent and got a dick pic in reply. Other landlords allegedly suggested snuggling with their tenants, going on dates with them or staying at their apartments, Jabola-Carolus told Oxygen.com.
In her time at the state commission before the COVID-19 outbreak, Jabola-Carolus said she only heard one similar complaint.
Two weeks ago, they had 10. Since then, they’ve had one more — pushing the total to 11 since the pandemic began.
Hawaii’s courts are not currently processing eviction notices, but Jabola-Carolus said there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen once the pandemic ends.
All but one of her office’s complaints came from immigrant women, who may have more incentive not to get police or the courts involved, she said.
Jabola-Carolus was quick to point out that the Commission on the Status of Women was not the first place most people would probably contact about these kinds of concerns. They’re a feminist advocacy group, but they don’t offer legal services, and many Hawaii residents don’t even know they exist, she said.
However, she said she has reached out to Hawaii’s Housing and Urban Development Office, and they told her they’ve seen an increase in these kinds of cases since the start of the pandemic.
That office could not be immediately reached for comment.
If a landlord pressures you into performing any kind of sexual act, Jabola-Carolus recommended reaching out to the police and/or your local public interest law center. She has published an article on this topic on Medium.com.
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