Baltimore City police say they cannot start a criminal investigation into the claims made by seven women, that they were sexually harassed in exchange for repairs on their apartments in city public housing units.
The women filed a $1-billion lawsuit in federal court on Monday.
A spokesman for the Baltimore City Police Department says that without the women making complaints to them, they are not able to begin a criminal investigation into the case.
The women live in the Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore, and one other housing project in the city. They say for years, maintenance workers sexually harassed them, and only made necessary repairs if they submitted to their sexual advances.
“It's taken an extreme toll on them they're afraid to leave their homes, they're afraid to talk to people,” said Annie Hirsch, an attorney representing the women. “They're stuck in this awful predicament of living in homes that are not safe for them that are not safe for their children.”
Their lawsuit targets the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, its commissioner, Paul Graziano -- and two of his employees -- maintenance workers at Gilmor Homes.
But so far, the only active investigation into the claims is being run by the Housing Authority itself.
On Tuesday Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would not say whether Graziano was aware of the allegations -- only that now his agency knows about them, and is investigating.
“They take the allegations very seriously and I know that there is an ongoing investigation but there's no tolerance in the city for that type of activity and I know that it's going to be dealt with very speedily,” the mayor said.
But attorneys for the seven women say they complained to supervisors of the maintenance men, but nothing ever happened.
In the lawsuit, the women claim that the "Defendants Housing Authority of Baltimore City and Paul T. Graziano knew or should have known of the policy of sexual harassment ruthlessly enforced against defenseless single women in Baltimore public housing."
“The housing authority was well aware of it. Because there have been complaints dating back many years, and did absolutely nothing about it,” said Cary Hansel, the plaintiffs’ other attorney.
The lawsuit is massive – there are 15 complaints coming from each of the seven women. And in each complaint they are asking for $10-million. That adds up to more than $1-billion.
The attorneys say the women did not report the abuse to police because they say they don't trust the Baltimore City Police Department.