In this day and age a copious amount of sexual abuse allegations and convictions, more are coming to light every day. However, no one predicted that one of New York City’s largest non-profit housing organizations has been run by, what The New York Times[i] can only describe as, a “Harvey Weinstein 2.0.” Sadly, this becomes a story about victimizing one of the most vulnerable populations, both by the perpetrator and those that protected him.
The Bronx Parent Housing Network has been at the forefront of New York City’s greatly increasing homelessness problem for over twenty years and has continued to be there for its residents throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. BPHN’s mission, to provide housing for those who do not have the means to acquire it on their own, however, seems to come with a caveat. With such a substantial vocation to do good, it’s been shocking to many that the organization’s chief executive, Victor Rivera, was fired on Thursday, for sexually abusing at least 10 women who have been a part of BPHN, five of which were known to be residents.
Though this may come as a surprise to someone completely unaffiliated with the organization, employees and residents have been bearing the brunt of Rivera’s behavior for years. In fact, Rivera paid over $175,000 in settlements to two different women in 2017 and 2019 after they accused him of sexual abuse. Employees have been fired for threatening to report Rivera after he harassed them or refusing to engage in sexual acts, which is a complete violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act[ii]. Additionally, many residents of the shelters funded by BPHN have come forward saying that Rivera would make sexual advances towards them or their friends in their respective housing units. From the inappropriate commentary to complete sexual propositions, Rivera was not shy when it came to his sexual desires for anyone and everyone.
Sadly, sexual abuse and harassment is a shared experience among women all over the globe. However, the thought of the unbridled sexual abuse that occurs throughout the homeless population is not even a second thought to post people. Studies have shown though that most homeless women will experience sexual or physical abuse at some point throughout their time being homeless[iii]. So, why is that? What puts targets on these women’s backs?
Well, ultimately it comes down to a few different factors. For one thing, those who are residents of homeless shelters, and especially those who pass through BPHN, are inherently vulnerable. They don’t have much and they are seeking assistance to obtain the basic necessities. Oftentimes there is also a reason they have ended up in this position. Maybe it’s because they recently got out of an abusive relationship or household, struggled with drugs, or are just having trouble getting their footing in life. Whatever it is that has caused them to end up in this place, it makes them easy to take advantage of. Powerful people like Victor Rivera seek out vulnerable women because they can do whatever they want to them with very little fear of ever being found out.
These women wanted to keep their homes and law enforcement was not going to take cases like this as seriously as they would if the women weren’t homeless, as much as they would like to say that they do. With Rivera’s case, a resident in one of the shelters funded by BPHN attempted to report him for sexual harassment but the complaint was forwarded straight back to BPHN to deal with, resulting in nothing being done about it. The organization dismissed the complaint, allowing Rivera to continue to work as normal.
It’s interesting to look at the juxtaposition between this incident and the employees who reported him and who were able to benefit from settlement money from the organization. No amount of money can repair the damage done by Rivera, of course, but there is clearly a disconnect between how these situations are handled. It’s for this exact reason that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered for any complaints of sexual misconduct within any type of non-profit organization be directed towards an independent investigation agency, rather than the nonprofit’s board[iv]. As a firm who aggressively litigates these claims[v], we believe this is a needed first step.
Victor Rivera’s case is just one example of the thousands of incidents like this that happen daily. This man was someone that these women trusted and looked to for guidance and he took full advantage of that because he could. As of now, Rivera’s employment at the Bronx Parent Housing Network has been terminated and further information regarding the ongoing investigation and legal process is yet to come.
If you suspect someone you know has been a victim to sexual abuse, we are here to help. Over the last 30 years, Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP has represented abuse victims and their families. We have experienced attorneys who are specialized in working sexual abuse cases. Contact us at (888) 260-0473 to learn more about our services and how we can help you recover financial compensation, as well as receive justice for you or your loved ones.