Samira Gudrun, an apartment building rapporteur for New York City’s Tenants Union, is calling for landlords to respect the rights of their tenants and tenants’ advocates to report abuse, to be able to protect themselves, and to not use force against them.
Gudrun is one of dozens of people who have been calling for the rights and protections of renters in the wake of a rash of sexual assaults on New York’s city-owned apartment buildings.
In response, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) released a report last year detailing what it described as a “dramatic increase” in reported incidents of sexual assault against tenants.
The report noted that between April and September of this year, the number of reports of sexual abuse at a building that was a Tenants United office or office space had increased from just under 50 to more than 400.
“This is a massive increase, and the number we’ve received is staggering,” said Gudru, a founding member of the TenantsUnited union, during a conference call with reporters earlier this month.
“The most shocking part of all of this is that it’s only been a few months since we launched the Tenant Union.
Now we have more than 2,000 people signed up.”
“The numbers show that there’s a lot of pressure on tenants and on landlords, and this is what we’re fighting for,” she added.
At the conference call, Gudrup called for the DHMH to “get out of the way” and provide protection to tenants and their advocates, and said the union had been working to help those who needed it.
She said she was “very disappointed” in the response to her call for help.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has responded to the increased reporting by claiming the city’s law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on sexual assault in the city.
De Blasio’s Department of Education has said the “public education and criminal justice systems are being used to fight sexual assault,” and the NYPD has said it is “trying to prevent sexual harassment in our own city by focusing on preventing assaults by the NYPD.”
In a statement, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) said that the city is “working with the tenant’s union to ensure the proper enforcement of the law in New York, including addressing the root causes of the problem, such as sexual harassment and the disproportionate numbers of sexual violence victims.”
However, Goudrun told VICE News that she believes there is a lack of enforcement of tenant protections.
According to Gudruns report, tenants who have filed complaints against landlords have been “disproportionately targeted” in reporting harassment.
Some of the most egregious cases of abuse alleged by tenants have involved “attempted sexual assault” of a tenant, “physical violence,” “physical intimidation,” “verbal abuse,” and “sexual violence.”
While Gudrunners report noted an increase in the number and severity of sexual harassment incidents, she said she felt that the “tipping point” of the increase was the September 5 incident where a woman said that she was sexually assaulted by a co-tenant at her building.
That incident occurred after the tenant allegedly “started making advances” towards her and a “jaw-dropping” display of the woman’s genitals “showed that she could feel his tongue in her mouth,” Gudstein said.
Although Gudsens report notes that the NYPD is not enforcing the law, she feels that “they are working very hard to take down any and all information about tenants, so that tenants are not aware of the issue.”
Goudrun said that “a lot of these incidents, it’s not just about the victims who are reporting, it is the perpetrators who are doing the harassment.”
As of June 29, the city has recorded 1,542 sexual assault reports, according to the Department for Human Rights.
In an interview with VICE News, Godrun said she hopes that the new legislation will change the NYPD’s approach toward sexual harassment.
“I think that it is going to help us to protect the public,” Gouds said.
“We are a city that is very safe and we are very proud of that.”
Follow Ali Abunimah on Twitter: @aliabunimahs_