Janitors Urge Brown to Sign Bill Boosting Sexual Assault Protections

Anabella Aguirre (L) shares her story of being sexually assaulted by her supervisor. She stands alongside her daughter, Yamilex Rustrian, on Thursday, Sept. 1. (Ryan Levi/KQED)

Janitors who have survived sexual assault at work and their supporters are demanding Gov. Jerry Brown sign legislation increasing protections in the industry, and have planned actions across the state to get more attention.

The Legislature on Tuesday passed AB 1978, which would require companies employing janitors to provide sexual assault prevention training every two years and fine those who don't comply.

The bill was inspired by an investigative collaboration, "Rape on the Night Shift," which highlighted the dangers of sexual assault facing mainly immigrant women janitors. While supporters hope Brown will sign the bill by the Sept. 30 deadline, there is some concern he won't, according to Sasha Khokha, host of The California Report Magazine and one of several reporters who spent months investigating the story.

"There's no formal opposition to this bill from property owners or janitorial companies, but I think there is some concern that he may not actually sign it," says Khokha.

On Thursday, survivors shared their stories in downtown Oakland before a screening of the PBS Frontline documentary "Rape on the Night Shift." The group also announced plans to demonstrate throughout the month to keep the issue front and center.

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"Almost all of these women were new faces and new voices," said Khokha. "It was quite remarkable at the screening today to see these women who call themselves 'promotoras' -- basically, women who are coming forward to train and be leaders in their communities, train other janitors on issues of sexual assault and harassment."

Anabella Aguirre -- who held a sign that read "I kept silent because I didn't want my kids to know" -- shared her story about being assaulted by her supervisor after he increased her workload for refusing his advances. Her daughter, Yamilex Rustrian, spoke, too.

"The one thing me and my mother have never talked about is rape or sexual harassment," Rustrian said. "Just because she's an immigrant woman, because she's undocumented and because she works in isolation, that they think this is right. But there is no excuse for rape ever."

Alejandra Valles is the secretary-treasurer of the SEIU United Service Workers West, the union that represents janitors. She said that "speak outs" will be held at universities across California next week to raise awareness of sexual assault and encourage more survivors to come forward.

"We're going to be bridging the struggle of college campus rape and rape within a marginalized community like immigrant undocumented janitors," Valles said.

Others plan to fast beginning Sept. 12 until Brown signs the bill into law. Even if Brown signs the bill before then, survivors still may fast to "continue the process of healing," Valles said.

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