Uncovering rampant sexual harassment in housing systems

Khristen Sellers went to court after she says she was solicited for sex by a man who had the power to evict her - and dozens of other women with alarmingly similar stories came forward.
9:26 | 02/26/19

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Transcript for Uncovering rampant sexual harassment in housing systems
Kristen sellers says she was fed up with being sexually harassed by her housing inspector, so she took things into her own hands, secretly recording their conversation. All righty. Well. We're almost straight. You take care of me later on. He had the power to evict her if she didn't give in, she says, to his commands for sex. His first time coming to the house to do the inspection approval. What kind of vibe are you picking up? He felt like I was weak. He pulls me in the bathroom. He stands in front of me. He blocks me and he shows himself. When you say shows himself, what do you mean? He pulled out his penis. A single mom desperate to stay in her home, sellers decided she wasn't going to be a victim. He basically let me know I'm powerful. I'm powerful and you're not. Not. I had to stand up to him. Demanding justice, empowering others to come forward. Sellers' case exposing just how rampant sexual harassment in the housing industry really is, striking the one place that's supposed to be safe, where you live. If we take away the silence, then they don't have any more power. Sellers' journey here was long and troubled, going to jail on drug-related charges. When I came home from prison, I had lost everything. I always battle with myself. And -- She moved back to her hometown of laurinburg, north Carolina, picking up two jobs. I was walking two to three miles a day. She had applied for housing in section 8 in 2011. Her goal the American dream, a home for her and her three kids. What did that voucher represent to you? It represented a place for my family to stay. I wanted it with everything that was in me. How crucial are these vouchers in order to get this kind of housing? The waiting list are years. They are almost like gold. But sellers got a voucher and was able to rent this home as part of the public housing program a local inspector with check on the house periodically. His name, Eric Pender. He had the power to basically make sure I didn't have a home. Sellers recalls her very first inspection. He was asking me why I didn't have male figures, you know, to help me. Why you don't have a boyfriend. Did you start getting nervous? Yeah, I definitely did. Suddenly she says the meeting changed from awkward to aggressive. When you're in a situation with a person who can stop you from having a house, listen, I don't want to do this. And he still shows himself. He pulled out his penis. She says she left the room shocked, but didn't engage. I just couldn't believe he had the audacity, the bravery. It's different because that's your sanctuary. That's where you supposed to be safest is your home. Why would your background make him want to target you? Because it's my word against his, it makes me look like a liar. What made you stand up to him? At that point, I'd been through so much, and then I believed if I did get something, it's going to be something I have to give him over and over. I just needed some way to prove it. Sellers told a friend about Pender's behavior, who reported it to Pender's boss. But she also sought the advice of a private investigator, who suggested she record her conversation. My heart was beating really, really fast. My hands were sweaty. I was like literally trembling out of my boots. But what she didn't know is that Pender's boss had told him about her complaint. All I did was try to help her. You know, you getting tired of me asking you for And everything. Who? I don't know. They call my boss. Pender then seems to admit he had approached sellers before. And seeing how I came by and asked you for some anyway, and I said well, damn, maybe you know then I start thinking maybe it's because you like women, and maybe I shouldn't have never even approached you. In tend it was still you owe me. You still owe me. Sex, basically. We almost there. You take care of me later on. What made you decide to get a lawyer? I basically went to see what I had. Because I didn't know. After many rejections, she eventually found this man, Craig Hensel, a Greensboro based attorney. It was my first year of practice, and she called me with a case, but it struck me as something that was probably actionable and that was definitely wrong and something needed to be done about it. And when you heard the audio, what did you think? It was damning. It's a big boost to the case's credibility. He agreed to take on her case. He was the first person to kind of like say I believe you. And with that, the team looked for other victims, and the floodgates opened. So many women came forward that legal aid got involved. Some had similar allegations but didn't know each other. So that was something that struck me. History has shown us that women with that many layers of vulnerability are usually not believed. Oh, you're black, oh, you're poor, oh, you're an ex con. Even the major cases we've seen in the news, it takes dozens of women to come forward before people start saying oh, well maybe they're telling the truth. Burk is the adversary who first spearheaded the phrase me too. Before this she worked in Alabama. Sexual violence is not a Hollywood problem. It's a pervasive problem. There is no group it doesn't touch, no race, no religion, it doesn't discriminate. But in North Carolina, because these women had spoken out, they were being believed. And their case had gotten so many plaintiffs that now the federal justice and housing departments began investigating. In this case, we were able to generate a national discussion about a very serious issue. When was the moment that you really felt vindicated, like the truth had come out. When the other women came out, it was like, okay, now they know, you know, that everybody ain't lying. The stories from these women, just a slice of what women experience everywhere. We have our ongoing enforcement efforts which in the last two years alone has resulted in $1.2 million in compensation for victims. Hud and doj are encouraging women to keep coming forward, putting out psas like this. I felt like no one would listen to me. He had more power than I DI. Telling the stories of real women who battle harassment at home, like autumn weaver. I was a recovering addict. I was getting my kids back from state's custody. What did you having a house mean for you and your kids? Everything. In may of 2012, she was approved for public housing and moved into her own apartment in Kansas City. She said she was harassed by her property manager, Derek astill, eventually giving in to his demands for sex. When it's your home and they're your landlord or your property manager, in the end, you deal with them 365 days out of the year. It's like you're a prisoner in your own home. Weaver filed a complaint against the housing authority which was eventually settled and award her damages. As test ll always denied the allegations. The Kansas City Kansas housing authority said it did not become aware of the allegations related to Mr. Estell until discovery was conducted in the doj lawsuit. The organization also says they've implemented new policies to prevent harassment moving forward. It's made me a stronger woman. It made me value myself more. As for Kristen sellers, her class action was settled for $2.7 million, the largest of its kind at the time. By the time the investigation ended, 71 additional women had come forward with complaints. Eric Pender denied all allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination and did not respond to ABC news requests for comment. The company that employed Pender tells ABC news that they take very seriously the right of all individuals to be treated with dignity and respect. Added that it has changed its leadership and are committed to taking responsibility any time we fall short. We give them power when we be quiet. That's what I've learned. And through this whole ordeal. This is her new home, hers and hers alone. She's no longer in the public housing system. What does the phrase "Home sweet home" mean to you? To have love under a roof have, peace. It's sweet. Her fair housing justice award hangs on the wall, along with her meditations. Sing like no one's listening, dance like nobody's watching, love like you never been hurt.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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