Latina-led investigation confronts sexual harassment

November 30, 2016

What do you do when you are one of the very few women on the job and your male coworkers won’t stop commenting on your body? What if you work nights cleaning offices, and your boss keeps making unwanted contact with you, who do you report to? How do language barriers and immigration status affect a woman’s ability to work free of harassment and abuse?

These are the questions the woman behind Latinas Transforming Research into Action to Stop Harassment and Violence at Work (Latinas TRASH Violence at Work) are working hard to find out.

“I think this project is important because it makes visible a problem that is hidden,” said Indira Alfaro, one of the Latinas TRASH Violence at Work investigators. “This harassment is a real and threatening part of Latina women’s lives, sometimes lasting for years. We are learning just how much it is affecting the health and self-esteem of women.”

Alfaro and her co-investigators, all members of the MassCOSH International Women’s Committee, are investigating low-wage jobs that are at elevated risk of sexual harassment and violence, such as janitorial, restaurant, hotel, and factory. Not only will these women document harassment, but they will also identify resources and practices that will support the health and well-being of those impacted by workplace harassment and violence.

The investigators are collaborating with UMass Lowell's Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace, and benefiting from the support of an advisory board, which includes occupational and community health professionals, attorneys, academic researchers, labor and attorneys.  The board is lending their input as the women develop the interview questions, analyze the findings, and develop recommendations.  MassCOSH aims to release their report on these efforts in March of 2017.

“I hope this project will serve as a model for other worker centers around the country to take this issue seriously and develop similar projects in order to continue collecting the stories of women and what they face on the job because it needs to be heard,” said Alfaro. “I hope that the issue of sexual abuse at work will now be seen as a real problem that is really affecting Latina women and that what we do here will lead to changes in sexual harassment public policy.”