Maria’s Workplace is #OursToo: Stopping the Epidemic of Sexual Violence Against Female Janitors

Noreen Farrell, Executive Director

Each day when I sit down in my office with a warm cup of coffee, I fix the photo on my desk of my two girls. I look at the sea of folders and papers in front of me, certain that justice is defended here. Throughout my day, I consider civil rights cases that must be filed. I handle calls about legislation that will help the communities my organization serves. For many years, I assumed this was my space – and that good things happen here. Most of us probably feel the same.

Fourteen years ago, Maria Bojorquez walked into my office. Maria is a mother, an immigrant, and a janitor. She cleans buildings just like mine in San Francisco. The personal story she shared reminded me that our offices change late at night. They are not safe spaces for everyone. Our offices are often where female janitors like her can be rubbed against, groped, attacked, violated, and threatened.

I am heartened to see the #MeToo movement come to workplaces across the country. My resolve and dedication to this work is affirmed with each request for sexual harassment trainers and while reading company proclamations of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct.

But what happens when we all leave at night? What about when the lights are dimmed and women like Maria are left isolated with sexual predators in our offices?

Female janitors are mobilizing and organizing to eradicate sexual harassment and violence in their workplaces – and they’re winning. The best solutions to combat the violence experienced in some of our workplaces come from women workers themselves, a lesson we’ve learned through representing, training, and partnering with janitors.

Since Maria walked into my office 14 years ago, Equal Rights Advocates filed suit against the company that protected her assailant and Maria found justice 11 years later. We will continue to bring cases on behalf of women like her across the country because sexual assault is not the price of a paycheck.

And we are not stopping in the courts. Three years ago, we joined workers, advocates, and unions to form the Ya Basta coalition. Buoyed by the compelling PBS Frontline documentary Rape on the Night Shift, featuring the story of Maria and other janitors, we partnered with worker leaders to pass the first law specifically designed to protect janitors from sexual violence – and it’s already benefiting 220,000 janitors in California. The Ya Basta coalition is training dozens of promotoras to build the power of women worker leaders and to ensure the law is implemented in worksites across the state. We intend to scale up our efforts nationally so that every one of the nation’s 2.1 million janitors feels safe when they go to work.

Women janitors are building a movement – one that we are proud to be a part of. If you want to be sure your office is safe for everyone, join us today. Because Maria’s workplace is #OursToo.

And be sure to check out the compelling updated version of PBS Frontline’s Rape on the Nightshift airing tonight. This updated version features leaders of the Ya Basta Coalition, including ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch.

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