Credit: Seiu Usww / YouTube
“I am that woman that you raped 9 years ago on that night.”
When everyone goes home from work, school or church, the space becomes the janitors domain. Many of these working class janitors tend to be women, they tend to be immigrant mujeres, and for years they have been vulnerable to the worse kind of abuse.
Leticia Soto, a janitor in Los Angeles, was raped nine years ago while working a night shift. In a letter to her attacker, she recounts in graphic detail what happened to her, and the fears she had after (Para español, leer aquí):
I lived for nine years in silence. And I didn’t report you to the authorities. I never went to hospital for fear that they would call the police. I never went to the police for fear that they would call immigration. And we all know what happens when they call immigration on you: separation from your children and deportation. You never paid for your crime. And I never had a day in court to read you this letter. Unfortunately, I am not a student at a prestigious school. I don’t wear the uniform of a profession that is considered important. I am still a janitor on the night shift.
In California, female janitors are getting some help. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1978 on Thursday, September 15, making official a law that would protect women in janitorial services that would otherwise be vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape. The bill creates a requirement that janitorial businesses register with the state and the workers undergo training to address sexual harassment and abuse.
For five days, 18 women, most all of them survivors of rape or abuse, fasted in front of the state capitol of California in hopes of getting the attention of Gov. Brown to sign AB 1978.
PBS Frontline reported about this issue a year ago in their segment “Rape on the Night Shift.” In the story, rape victims recounted graphic stories of abuse, how their attackers would threaten to report them to ICE, and how their supervisors would turn a blind eye toward the abuse. In some cases, their supervisors were the abusers.
I got to see firsthand both the passion these women had and the toll the fast had on them. (I managed the SEIU USWW Twitter and Facebook accounts during the fast). The female janitors came from Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Ana and Los Angeles; were predominantly middle-aged Latinx mothers; and it was their first time fasting.
While the women stayed off of their feet throughout the fast, OG visitors like Dolores Huerta, Maria Elena Durazo, and others came out to support the women.
On the last day of the fast, the women broke the fast ceremonially with a piece of bread, and released doves into the air. Georgina Hernandez, another janitor and survivor, with dove in hand said: “I want to throw (this bird) up because it’s very special; it ends our pain.”