California Lawmakers Taking Steps to End Sex Abuse of Female Janitors

March 10, 2016


It’s the “invisible crime wave.” Female janitors working alone at night in Californian banks and office buildings often fall prey to rape and sexual assault. One state lawmaker is aiming to change all that.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego announced at the International Women’s Day rally in Sacramento on March 8 that her office is drafting a bill which strengthens state protection for female custodial workers. Gonzalez was touched to the core by the Frontline documentary “Rape on the Night Shift,” and resolved to do something to improve the working conditions for women who are night-shift janitors.

If it becomes law, Gonzalez’s bill would teach female janitors (many of whom are undocumented migrants with a poor grasp of the English language and American law) their rights in a sexual harassment case; require that female custodians work in teams of two; make sexual harassment training obligatory; and toughen the screening and background checking processes for janitors and supervisors.

Frontline journalists discovered that studies of sex abuse in the service industry are few and far between, and very little data is available to gauge the amount of rape which occurs. One study interviewed 826 undocumented migrants in San Diego, and discovered that 64% of custodians has been subjected to some sort of labor violation. About 33% were being compelled to work against their wishes, and of that portion of the janitorial population, 17% said they had been threatened with physical or sexual violence.

“There are times that what is happening is so tragic you really have to look at every option,” said Lorena Gonzalez at the International Women’s Day rally in Sacramento. “This is assault and rape. Obviously, it’s something we would never allow to happen, and we need to take the steps necessary to prevent it. And I hope we can.”