More Than 100 Janitors, Rape Survivors March From S.F. to Sacramento

The trek is being made in support of a statewide bill on Governor Brown's desk that would strengthen protection for janitors vulnerable to violence and sexual assault.

Janitors stand up for their rights at San Francisco’s City Hall before marching to Sacramento. (Photo: Kevin N. Hume)

“For us, the #MeToo movement wasn’t born on Twitter, or social media,” says Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees International Union Local 87, at a press conference Monday. “It was born out of the courage that women have to be able to say ‘enough is enough.’ ” 

Monday’s rally at City Hall — which featured a number of union organizers and dozens of service workers — signified the launch of an epic trek, as more than 100 janitors who’ve survived rape march on foot from San Francisco to Sacramento. The effort is a statement of support for Assembly Bill 2079, which would strengthen sexual harassment and violence prevention procedures for janitors, particularly those who work the night shift. Under the bill, any employer would have to prove they’d been through sexual harassment training, and an advisory committee would be formed to oversee the process. In addition, peer-training would be employed so that immigrant women could educate one another about the risks involved with working night shifts. 

A group of women janitors who have survived rape and sexual harassment cheer after taking off their shirts at a rally in City Hall on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The movement behind #RapeOnTheNightShift has been building for years, and with the emergence of a Frontline documentary of the same name, has finally garnered national attention. But the Trump administration has thrown a wrench in progress; Last year, the Los Angeles Police Department released data showing a 25 percent drop in reports of rape from Hispanic women.

Sadly, it’s doubtful the drop is due to a decrease in crime. Female janitors often work late at night in empty offices and are at a high risk of assault. Advocates in the community blame a fear of deportation for the decline in outreach to authorities.

“Sexual harassment, assault, and rape are not about sex appeal. It’s not about being good looking or being skinny or overweight. It’s about power and fear,” says Alejandra Valles, chief of staff and secretary-treasurer at SEIU United Service Workers West. “When you think about that power, and you think about the immigrant women that clean your bathrooms and prepare your food… We need to understand those power dynamics. We ask that you recognize the expertise of these janitors in doing peer-to-peer training, so it’s not an HR person or some expert or some lawyer coming in to train immigrant women.”

The bill is currently on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, awaiting his signature.  The janitors will spend the next four days marching, and expect to arrive in Sacramento on Friday, Sept. 14. 

“Every step we take is one more step for justice in the name of all the women who have not come forward, that have been scared, that have been embarrassed or humiliated,” Miranda says.

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