Women in Baltimore public housing report that maintenance men routinely withheld basic home repairs until the women delivered sexual favors. These repairs would have fixed the “deplorable conditions” that victims were subjected to, including rodent and insect infestations, lack of heat, mold, and electrocution risks.
A lawsuit was filed, and a settlement has been reached in the “sex for repairs” case waged against the Baltimore Housing Authority. The lawsuit, filed in September, detailed the sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of Baltimore, Maryland public housing workers.
Victims will split the $6-$7.95 million settlement. In addition, the settlement requires that Baltimore fire and ban abusers from Housing Authority property while moving plaintiffs into livable homes.
“These victims are too poor to move out and relocate their families,” the complaint says. “Consequently, they are left with the impossible choice of either succumbing to unwanted sexual demands in order to save themselves and their children from life-threatening conditions in their homes, or, living in squalor.”
Abusers manipulated their place of power, exerting control over women and the “most vulnerable members of society, including the poor, the young, and the disabled” according to the complaint. Victims ranged from under-age to over 50 years old and were able bodied as well as disabled. The common thread tying victims together: their need for critical repairs to their homes.
Stories detailed women desperate to make a safe living space for themselves and their families only to be taken advantage of by those in a place to help.
In one case a single mother, who had moved into public housing to escape an abusive relationship, described a housing employee by the name of Mr. Coleman answering her request for repairs by exposing himself to her in his office and asking, “What can you do with this?”
Suffering a gas leak in her house and fearing for her life, she finally gave in to Mr. Coleman’s demands.
The lawsuit describes shocking examples of abuse. At least one employee threatened violence if demands for sex were not heeded.
In one story, a victim described the numerous work orders placed to fix the broken refrigerator in her apartment. After years of unanswered calls for repair, an employee of the housing authority told her that in order to get a new refrigerator, she had to have sex with him.
“I was desperate,” she said in a sworn affidavit. “I am on disability and have limited means. I was consistently losing food and I was not able to afford new food. I felt that I had no choice.” She gave in and had sex with him twice and received two refurbished refrigerators over the course of two years.
The city’s public housing authority, Paul Graziano, has set up a hotline for victims to call and anonymously report abuse. Despite this, and the firing of two maintenance employees, residents have called for Graziano’s resignation. It is believed that Graziono ignored multiple allegations of abuse.