Sacramento, CA – In a striking demonstration of solidarity at the State’s Capitol, several women legislators in the California Assembly wore janitorial uniform shirts in addition to denim today – showing their support for the cause of Immigrant Women Rising and Asm. Lorena Gonzalez’s Assembly Bill 1978, an effort to end sexual assault of janitors in their workplaces. The event took place on “Denim Day” – an international day of awareness around sexual assault prevention.
Georgina Hernandez, a former janitor from Los Angeles said, “Sexual harassment is the reality for female janitorial workers. No one wants to talk about it but it happens all the time. I have a right to work free of harassment and violence. I should feel safe at work.”
An epidemic of sexual assault and rape of women janitors while they are at work was brought to light through recent groundbreaking reporting in a news investigation titled, “Rape on the Nightshift” as well as a UC Berkeley’s “Race to the Bottom” report on the harsh working conditions found in the janitorial industry.
AB 1978 (Gonzalez) will begin tackling this issue by requiring training and creating a hotline and by holding janitorial companies accountable for workplace conduct directed toward their female employees. Women janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union SEIU) United Service Workers West (USWW) have also made sexual assault and rape prevention a centerpiece of contract negotiations now taking place across California.
“I am proud of the brave women who have come forward to end the silence about sexual harassment, assault, and rape on the job,” Gonzalez said. “I’m proud of the women who shared their stories today about their vulnerability at work, and proud to stand with so many of my colleagues to bring home the importance of passing AB 1978.”
Hundreds of women rallied on the south steps of the State Capitol convened by the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CalCASA). Participants included public officials, victims, victim-advocates and California leaders who called on legislators to sign a pledge against sexual violence.
In addition to the display of janitorial uniform shirts from the janitors and legislators, all participants wore denim, which has become a recognized symbol of protest against destructive attitudes about sexual assault. Denim Day is recognized as a prevention campaign and protest against the destructive attitude of sexual assault throughout the country and across the globe.
In 1999, the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans, stating that she would have had to have received help to remove them, insinuating that consensual sex took place in the incident in question rather than rape. Denim Day has been recognized in California for the past 15 years.
“Today’s demonstration shows the power of immigrant women rising up to fight injustice on the job,” said Alejandra Valles, Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU-USWW. “Today’s demonstration of support from Legislative women sends a strong message on Denim Day: wearing a janitor’s uniform is not an invitation for rape or economic exploitation.”