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High-Profile Women Break the Silence on Sex Assaults, But Low-Wage Workers Still Vulnerable to Abuse

StoryDecember 07, 2017
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On Wednesday, Time magazine announced the 2017 “Person of the Year” goes to the women who have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment, sparking an international movement. It called the group “the Silence Breakers” and included Hollywood actresses, journalists, farmworkers and hotel cleaners. We look at how sexual abuse also thrives in low-wage sectors like farm work, hotel cleaning and domestic work, where workers are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women and are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual violence. We speak with Tarana Burke, founder of the “Me Too” movement and one of the women featured in Time’s new issue. She founded the organization in 2006 to focus on young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation. She is now a senior director at Girls for Gender Equity. We are also joined by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and strategy and partnership director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and by Mily Treviño-Sauceda, co-founder and vice president of the National Alliance of Women Farmworkers. She is a former farmworker and union organizer with the United Farm Workers.

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Video squareWeb ExclusiveDec 08, 2017Farmworkers, Domestic Workers & Women in Low-Wage Jobs Face Challenges Reporting Sexual Assault
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Time magazine announced the 2017 Person of the Year goes to the women who have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment, sparking an international movement. It calls the group “the Silence Breakers” and includes Hollywood actresses, journalists, farmworkers and hotel cleaners. Time’s announcement came after President Trump claimed he was in the running for the Time Person of the Year. President Trump has been accused of sexual assault by at least 16 women.

Exposing the predatory behavior of powerful men like Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has helped opened the space for millions to share their stories of sexual harassment and sexual violence. But while all women are at risk, women who are are not public figures are often more vulnerable if they call out their abusers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we look at how sexual abuse also thrives in low-wage sectors like farm work, hotel cleaning, domestic work, where workers are disproportionately women of color and immigrant women, are highly vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. We’re joined now by three guests.

Here in New York, Tarana Burke, founder of the “Me Too” movement, one of the women featured in Time magazine’s Person of the Year, founded the organization in 2006 to focus on young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation, now senior director at Girls for Gender Equity.

In Berkeley, California, Alicia Garza joins us, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, strategy and partnership director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Her piece in BuzzFeed is headlined “As the Floodgates Open, Don’t Forget About Our Cleaners, Nannies, and Carers.”

And via Democracy Now! video stream from Palm Springs, California, Mily Treviño-Sauceda is with us, co-founder and vice president of the National Alliance of Women Farmworkers, a former farmworker herself and union organizer with the United Farm Workers.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Tarana Burke, you are profiled in Time’s Person of the Year, “The Silence Breakers,” but, clearly, you should be on the cover. You are the originator of the “Me Too” movement.

TARANA BURKE: Well, you know, I was glad to be included in the profile. We had a really lengthy conversation with Time magazine about what this moment means and what “Me Too” means to moving the movement forward. So, it was really a pleasure just to be named—

AMY GOODMAN: And you, yourself, a victim. Talk about how you began this idea of “Me Too.”

TARANA BURKE: Well, I am a survivor of sexual violence three times, and particularly child sexual abuse. And so, for me, it was really important to support the young girls, the black and brown girls that I worked with at the time when I was starting to do this work, my partner and I. It was one of my best friends and I started this because both of us had endured sexual violence as young people.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alicia Garza, can you talk about—your recent piece for BuzzFeed magazine is headlined “As the Floodgates Open, Don’t Forget About Our Cleaners, Nannies, and Carers.” Could you speak specifically—because, of course, most of the stories we’ve heard of concern leaders, men, who have assaulted women or harassed them, public figures. These men are public figures. But can you say what you think the specific risks are that are faced by domestic workers?

ALICIA GARZA: Sure, absolutely. First, I want to just say congratulations, Tarana, and you absolutely should have been on the cover. Thank you for creating the space for us to even be able to have this conversation.

The reason we thought it was really important to insert domestic workers into this conversation around sexual violence and sexual harassment is because if we didn’t, then we would have a mistaken idea that sexual violence is really a dynamic between wealthy white women and wealthy and powerful white men. And the reality is, women of color, immigrant women, black women who are low-wage workers are extremely vulnerable to this kind of abuse and violence. And frankly, because of the lack of protections that exist or, to be honest, the marginalization that these communities already experience in our society, in our economy and in our democracy, there really is not only not conversation about the prevalence in which this is happening to women of color and immigrant women in the service industry, but there’s also not a lot of conversation about what do the solutions look like, outside of criminalizing the perpetrators or the survivors themselves. And so it was very important to us to make sure that we’re having a robust conversation not just about the prevalence of sexual violence amongst women of color, immigrant women and low-wage workers, but also to be able to imagine a future where survivors, and perpetrators, are not criminalized and feeding an already bloated criminal justice system, but are instead shaping the solutions that will transform all of our lives.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Mily Treviño-Sauceda into the conversation, the National Alliance of Women Farmworkers. Talk about your experience in the fields as a farmworker, your experience with the “silence breakers.”

MILY TREVIÑO-SAUCEDA: Thank you for inviting me, to start with, to be part of this important conversation.

Yes, I do come from a migrant farmworker family. And as a teenager, I remember being harassed several times. And because of our taboos, because of the myths, it was very, very hard to even speak about it. At the same time, the people that I felt I could trust were not prepared to support me. So, that made the silence even worse. But it took me 20 years to even try to talk about it, until we started organizing as—in the farmworkers, as farmworker women, and created a movement in California. And we felt that one of the strongest issues was violence against women, and particularly violence against women—the sexual violence against women in the workplace.

We started understanding, as we started talking with each other, that this was a very, very pervasive problem, and we needed to do something, and to talk about it, it was very, very hard. So it took us a long haul, but now we know that we’ve been able to work together, and created—not only in California, but California being the pioneer organizers to the National Alliance, we were able to create this network where now we’re talking more, we’re supporting each other, we’re finding ways. And as we learned about what was going on with women and men, actors and models, and understanding the whole dynamics of violence against women, especially sexual violence against women, we felt it was very, very important that we enjoin, that we be together, that we break the silence together, because that makes it a much stronger way of ending violence against women.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tarana Burke, can you talk about, in addition to low-wage workers, your concerns about who all have been excluded from this conversation, the “Me Too” conversation?

TARANA BURKE: Yeah. I mean, I think that we’ve seen how women of color have been excluded from this conversation, largely. And I think non-celebrities have been included from the conversation, really. But—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Excluded.

TARANA BURKE: Excluded from the conversation, yeah. And I think that we also don’t talk about young people, right? We talk about sexual harassment in the workplace, but there’s sexual harassment in schools, right? There’s sexual harassment on the street. So there’s a larger conversation to be had. And I think it will be a disservice to people if we couch this conversation in about what happens in Hollywood or what happens in even political offices. There are so many women or people who are vulnerable. We don’t talk about the LGBT community or trans people or disabled people. So there are large swaths of people who are being left out of the conversation.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But do you think—I mean, had this not happened with celebrities—

TARANA BURKE: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —this would never have received the kind of public attention it now has. It’s global at this point.

TARANA BURKE: Absolutely. No, it opened the floodgates, right? And the other thing about celebrities is that a lot of those women, even the Harvey Weinstein accusers, were young people when they accused—when they fell victim to them. So it’s not like they were A-list Hollywood celebrities. They were trying to get in the business. So I think we shouldn’t just, you know, couch it as just like they were rich people. Some of them were young, trying to get in the business. But again, that’s indicative of what young people go through trying to be out in the world and survive on their own.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you think of the cover, Alicia Garza, of Time magazine—five women, some famous, like Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, others not famous, all women, “The Silence Breakers”?

ALICIA GARZA: You know, I think it’s an important point that Tarana makes. And when we talk about what’s happening on the cover, it’s incredible to see hotel housekeepers. It’s incredible to see women of color on that cover as disruptors, as silence breakers. And I can’t help but acknowledge the dynamic that, you know, honestly, if this hadn’t happened to white women with profile, with visibility of some sort, if this hadn’t shattered people’s idea of what Hollywood was, if this hadn’t shattered peoples’s idea of what happens in congressional halls and offices, then this wouldn’t be a conversation that would be happening. And yet, at the same time, this kind of violence, this kind of harassment, is incredibly prevalent, particularly in our communities. And so, I thought the cover was great.

I did think that Tarana should have been on it, as somebody who really created the space for this conversation to happen, but who has also been doing organizing on the ground for years. People who I know actually say to me, “She saved my life. She allowed me to be seen and to tell me that my experience was not an isolated one and that it wasn’t my fault”—is actually a really important contribution. And so—

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I thank you so much, everyone, for being with us. We’re going to do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us. A very happy birthday to Noam Chomsky.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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