The disparate impact of sexual harassment and assault on racial minorities, low-wage workers and immigrants entered the spotlight on Feb. 26, during the latest installment of UCLA School of Law’s discussion series on sexual harassment and the law.
Hosted by UCLA Law’s Critical Race Studies program, “Re-Centering the Conversation to the Margins: Race, Gender, and Low Wage Work,” featured activists representing farmworkers, restaurant employees, domestic caregivers and other laborers. In an auditorium packed with more than 100 law students, faculty and staff, the panelists shared insights from the citrus fields, stock rooms and janitorial closets where rape and other crimes occur at alarming rates.
“You should be not surprised, but shocked,” said Alicia Garza, the special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who detailed the crushing burden borne by many nannies, housekeepers and others who work in isolated private homes. “Even with increased exposure around sexual violence and sexual harassment, there still are not structures for domestic workers to bring their complaints to. There is no ombudsman. There is no agency.”
Garza was joined in conversation by Mily Treviño-Sauceda, vice president and co-founder of the farmworker women’s movement Alianza Nacional de Campesinas; Alejandra Valles, secretary-treasurer of SEIU United Service Workers West; María Vasquez, a leader of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles; and Manuel Villanueva, workplace justice organizer of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles.
In vivid remarks, the presenters stated that the majority of female workers in some of these low-wage trades have been harassed or assaulted, but that many crimes go unreported because survivors are intimidated, undocumented or lack legal resources.
Their discussion was moderated by Kimberlé Crenshaw, distinguished professor at UCLA Law and a trailblazing scholar in race and the law. It was part of the law school’s semester-long series of town hall-style conversations, “#MeToo, Sexual Harassment Law, and Changing Community Norms,” initiated as part of the current national conversation on power and gender dynamics in the workplace.
The speakers also reminded that the issue has many faces, people whose stories are often buried far beneath the headlines. Valles noted, for example, that perpetrators are not usually industry titans. They are often immediate supervisors, clients or even co-workers: “They are not the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.”
And while the #MeToo movement — created by Tarana Burke, an African-American woman — has been driven by celebrities, “sexual harassment does not discriminate,” Villanueva said. “It happens to everybody.”
The series draws support from more than a dozen offices and centers within the law school and is sponsored by the Margaret Levy Fund. Future topics include “Sexual Harassment and Hollywood” at the 42nd Annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium in March, and “Policy Forum: Addressing Sexual Assault and Harassment on California’s College and University Campuses” in April.