“Rape on the Night Shift” sparks conversation about sexual violence, minorities

Panelists (left to right) Isabel Escobar, Mechthild Hart and Jose Alonso answer questions about workplace violence. Photo by Rachel Popa

Panelists (left to right) Isabel Escobar, Mechthild Hart and Jose Alonso answer questions about workplace violence.
Photo by Rachel Popa

By Rachel Popa

Staff Reporter

The Public Broadcasting Service’s FRONTLINE investigative team’s “Rape on the Night Shift” documentary brings to light the sexual violence and abuse that women who work as janitors face as they work overnight shifts cleaning the interiors of buildings.

The majority of these women who work as janitors are undocumented minorities from Spanish-speaking countries who work alone on the night shift, making them vulnerable to abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 50 people a day are sexually assaulted while working on the clock.

These janitors work in everyday places like shopping malls, office buildings and hotels, cleaning and maintaining the buildings to earn a living and support their families.

The documentary tells the previously untold stories of women who have been sexually abused while working as janitors on the night shift. The FRONTLINE team focused on investigating ABM, the largest janitorial company in the United States.

They found that 42 lawsuits had been filed against AMB for sexual assault in the past two decades, and is among a select group of 15 companies that have been singled out by the federal government due to a history of sexual assault.  

Roosevelt University’s Women’s and Gender Studies program as well as the Honors

program held a screening of “Rape on the Night Shift” in the Wabash building on Oct. 28.

Panelists Isabel Escobar, a member of the Chicago Coalition for Household Work, Mechthild Hart, a Professor Emeritus at DePaul University and Jose Alonso, an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF) answered questions from the audience as well as moderator Karla Altmayer, a member of the National Immigrant Justice Center. All three panelists are members the Coalition Against Workplace Sexual Violence (CAWSV).

“People that are responsible are the supervisors that have the status, and are there to protect the women and give them the information to prevent this from happening,” said Escobar through a translator.

The panel discussed the threat of silence that victims often struggle with in regards to workplace sexual violence.

“Say something, talk to a friend, trusted supervisor, a community organizer, talk to somebody,” said Alonso.

“It is possible to show young men why not to rape, but it is also very important to think why sex and violence are so interconnected,” Hart said in response to a question about rape culture. “We need to find ways of being honest in our bodies, and how that would produce a different kind of sexuality, one that can be celebratory, wonderful, amazing.”

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