A Known and Familiar Workplace Hazard

Bernice YeungAn excerpt from Bernice Yeung’s recent release In A Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers (2018):

After looking at various industries that hire the most vulnerable workers, I’ve been forced to conclude that low-wage immigrants laboring in isolation are at unique risk of sexual assault and harassment. While it is not possible to know how often these abuses happen, they are not anomalies. The federal government estimates that about fifty workers are sexually assaulted each day, and in the industries that hire newcomers to the country in exchange for meager paychecks, such assault is a known and familiar workplace hazard.

As this book documents, however, there are few meaningful efforts to prevent workplace sexual violence before it starts. Instead, we unrealistically expect women with the most to lose to seek recourse by reporting the problem after the fact. The legal system–through filing a civil lawsuit or a criminal case–is often viewed as the clearest way to demand accountability. Workers can also go to their employers and unions to demand redress. Making a formal complaint helps emphasize that there can be consequences for this type of abusive conduct. But they are only part of the solution. These approaches are inherently reactive, and they require the confrontation of systemic roadblocks–such as deeply flawed notions of credibility–that create challenges to satisfying or just outcomes. They also do not, as esteemed law professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw has argued, consider the “intersectionality” of these workers’ experiences as women of color or immigrants, and how these identities impact the way they are perceived, how they might react, and they type of help they might need when faced with gender-based violence.

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