Under cover of darkness, female janitors face rape and assault
June 26, 2015 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Rape on the Night Shift: Every night, as most of us head home, janitors across America, many of them women, begin their night shift. They are often alone or isolated in empty buildings — and vulnerable to sexual violence. On Tuesday, a PBS Frontline/Reveal investigation explored ways sexual violence against janitors is going unreported and unpunished. All content is SFW, but some may find descriptions in the links in this post disturbing.

* Univision has a Spanish-language version. Their documentary, Violación de un Sueño: Jornada Nocturna, aired on Saturday, June 20
* PBS' main page.
* Reveal’s English-language national radio show will air on public radio stations across the U.S. starting Saturday, July 4, with a special Spanish-language podcast also being released on iTunes.

* KQED’s Central Valley bureau chief, Sasha Khokha, has a three-part radio series on how the story has played out in California:
        -- In Part 1, Khokha looks into what happened when ABM, the nation’s largest janitorial employer, was sued by 21 women for allegedly failing to protect them from sexual harassment and assault by 14 men working for the company.
        -- In Part 2, she looks at what the government is doing to prevent janitors from getting raped.
        -- In Part 3, we meet some former janitors who have gone undercover to clean up abuses.

Additional Articles and Reporting
* By the Numbers: The Magnitude of Rape and Sexual Assault.
* Undocumented Sexual Assault Victims Face Backlash and Backlog
* ABM responds Reporters for Frontline spent more than a year asking ABM for an on-camera interview. The company declined, but eventually provided a video statement.
* The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): At the “Vanguard” of Fight Against Discrimination

Previously on MeFi:
* Rape in the Fields: a Frontline documentary exploring the persistent allegations that female agricultural workers in the U.S. are frequently sexually assaulted and harassed by supervisors who exploit their (often undocumented) immigrant status. Available to stream on PBS' website.
posted by zarq (10 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

Oh god, this is horrifying and something I've never thought about. The cleaning ladies at work here often have very limited english, and reporting stuff to police is likely difficult for that and many others; not to mention that bringing stuff up is likely to make them risk losing their job for being seen as troublemakers. Ugh. Fuck this is horrible.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 8:23 AM on June 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

"On the one hand, one of our employees is a serial rapist and abuser who has committed a constant series of assaults, some with witnesses. On the other hand...eh, doing anything about it seems like it would take some effort."

Heartbreaking, horrible story.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:37 AM on June 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have the Frontline episode DVRed. I heard a bit of an interview on KQED Forum about the program, and host Rachael Myrow asked some weird laughing question about whether any of the women profiled in the piece were worried that the CEO or some other higher-up from their new companies would watch the program, realize that the woman worked for them now, and then fire the woman for being a "troublemaker" (I think that was the word she used), in a very odd "Har, har, wouldn't it be funny to be that paranoid?" sort of way. As if whistle-blowing had no real negative consequences for the whistle-blower ever, or reporting sexual assault and harassment had no real negative consequences for the victim ever. I only heard a bit of the segment, so I don't know if I was missing some context, but it was jarring.
posted by jaguar at 10:37 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've mostly worked at big companies where the cleaning staff work in teams - I too never thought about this. I hope more attention helps brings some sort of change.

Fantastic post.
posted by Mchelly at 10:39 AM on June 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

The company instead provided a statement from its lawyer, Miranda Tolar. It said the way ABM handles the issue is the “gold standard” for the industry.

The statement is quite the read. It comprehensively demolished the tiny bit of hope in my head that the company was acting out of ignorance or negligence or stupidity or even plain old money. This is a company that is doing everything possible to sidestep inconvenient laws. In fact, they seem to believe that sexual harassment laws only exist in order to reward women who have damaged the company's reputation and slacked off on the clock. ABM is doing everything in its power to convince itself that it is the damaged party. How can it be their fault if they've told their employees not to do it? Why are these women saying they are not being taken seriously when they can just go to their local HR person who will tell them about the HR hotline or the one that does 100 languages? Why are the claims of these women not backed up by the investigators who are specially trained to investigate claims using leading questions?

ABM firmly believes that its policies and procedures are the gold standard and that their system works. Sexual harassment is a serious topic with serious implications. So of course they have no choice but to protect themselves when it turns out that the women were lying. They can't allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

So why do they settle out of court so much even when it's abundantly clear that ABM did nothing wrong whatsoever? Well, it turns out that the women they employ are poor. Poor people can't afford to even cover the legal fees incurred to defend the company against baseless allegations, much less make the defense a profitable venture. Some courts will also enforce laws (which are probably unconstitutional) that can hold a company liable even if the company has demonstrated that it has the very best policies in place to prevent sexual harassment complaints, and immediately took action as soon as a complaint was made known to the appropriate departments. What more could they have done?

Also, they will settle out of court because they are doing everything they can to achieve the elimination of sexual harassment complaints. Also she was lying.

Of course revealing any sort of statistics or files would be an invasion of privacy. They take privacy very very very seriously when dealing with sexual harassment complaints. One can only imagine how restricted the complaint data is.

Also, their stocks are on the up.
posted by clorox at 2:04 PM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

For those of us working in offices, maybe we should make up some cards with hotline numbers (in English, Spanish, maybe some other languages) and leave them where staff are likely to find them.
posted by emjaybee at 6:04 PM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

The company instead provided a statement from its lawyer, Miranda Tolar. It said the way ABM handles the issue is the “gold standard” for the industry.

Sadly, they might be about the best there is in the industry, compared to the layers of sub- and sub-sub-contractors that the article describes. If you are working for an unlicensed subcontractor who has since gone out of business (and perhaps you are undocumented or otherwise legally vulnerable to boot), who would you sue in a similar situation? ABM at least has a legal structure and all the necessary apparatus, allowing people to try and take them to task for these kinds of egregious situations.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:03 PM on June 26, 2015

clorox: Also, their stocks are on the up.

So a happy ending then? It's really satisfying to know everything turned out well for the employer, I mean it's not like any pretty white teenagers were accosted.

Seriously, we usually define "hero" as someone doing things on a battlefield, but if you see this and report it and go through the miles of filth these intellectual thugs will put you through to stop you, I'll call you a hero too.
posted by lon_star at 12:43 AM on June 27, 2015

A few months ago our company leased an office in a creepy old building. Used to be a hospital. Two button lightswitches, frankenstein fuseboxes, elevator requires technical skills, hot water takes a while and seems to make the whole building groan.

I'd never met the nightshift dispatcher, needed both a men's room and business cards, so I texted her before coming by. I used the men's first and when I walked in there was immediately confronted with a painting of two crows doing something to something. Eating roadkill, I think.

So I did what I had to do and when I turned on the hot water to wash there was nothing and then the sound of the elephants on the top floor trying to squeeze through the pipes. The radiator was shaking.

Went across the hall to the office. Locked and dark. Knocked, identified myself. She opened the door and we sat down and talked for a bit. We have been through some 911 shit together via messaging and we hit it off. She keeps the lights off so nobody knows she is there.

I showed her the men's room and she wanted to show me something in the basement. It was a door marked as "Mortuary." So we got that locked door open and spent almost an hour in there looking at this perfectly preserved 1930 mortuary.

Until the drawers started opening. The ones you put bodies in. Don't know what we did to cause that. The floor in the hall was wet and we slipped and the last thing the cleaning ladies wanted to see was ANYTHING coming out of THAT door, so we got mops in the face.

The cleaning crew checks in with dispatch now. They know she is there and can bring help quick.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:15 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have only had a chance to read the first link but how heart breaking.
posted by biggreenplant at 10:48 AM on June 29, 2015

« Older EQUAL · MARRIAGE · UNDER · LAW   |   Docents Gone Wild Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments