News / USA

Immigrant Women Especially Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment in Workplace

Multimedia

Bernard Shusman

Since the earliest days of the Dutch settlers, New York has been the first stop for many immigrants coming into the United States - and in recent years, that has included immigrants from Africa.  More than half a million African migrants have come to the United States since 1980, and many have settled in New York, like other groups before them.   But with them have come serious social issues, especially for young West African women working in the city.

One of the main West African immigrant enclaves is in this Bronx, New York, neighborhood.  They are hard-working, religious people, who are making a life for themselves and their families in this new, different environment.  

Many women work as nannies or domestics, hotel chambermaids or go to school.  And many work in fear, like this woman named Fatou, a home attendant.

"I am scared to talk to people, I do not want to lose my job," said Fatou.

Fatou says the son of a client tried to have sex with her and it was not the first time it happened on a case.  It was similar, in a way, to the case of former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is charged with attacking a West African chambermaid, and now awaits trial.  

Dorchen Leidholdt, director of a group called Sanctuary for Families, says her group tries to help immigrant women.    

"Immigrant women, especially young women, immigrant women, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment in the workplace," said Leidholdt.  "Eighty percent of our clients are immigrants.  Most come from Latin America, Asia, Africa, like the victim in this particular case.  And we hear horrifying stories about what they are subjected to by employers."

The National Domestic Workers Alliance is calling for an international law banning harassment in the workplace.  Ai-Jen Poo says domestics and chambermaids have the same problems.

"The way we like to talk about it in the domestic work industry is, it is almost like our industry is, we call it, 'the wild West,' because almost anything goes," noted Ai-Jen Poo.  "There is no regulation, very little protection, very little standards.  It is often up to the individual workers who are very often isolated to advocate for their rights with very little power to do so."

As a college student at John Jay College in Manhattan, Guinea native Marie Toure was told that she could get a higher grade in exchange for sexual favors.  

"It was a scary situation," said Toure.  "I had to keep my GPA [grade point average] up.  Having a professor do that to you is kind of like scary.  Because if he is in school as a teacher he is supposed to protect you.  But if he is putting you in a situation where you are scared and put in a situation to hurt you.  It is hard to know what to do."

Counselor Miriama Diallo is also from West Africa.  She says the psychological effects and dangers in the workplace or at school are real.

"The women who share their experience, it is a huge effect.  The psychological that it has on them you cannot describe.  Nightmares, flashbacks, lack of sleep, tearful, profound tearful expressions when they come to these sessions," Diallo noted.

New York City's Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, Fatima Shama, says the city and state of New York are trying to reach out to these women and assure them they can get help, whether documented or undocumented.   

"We understand the fear, we understand unfortunately what is happening in our communities," said Shama.  "This is why, I think, a conversation like this today, allowing us to truly repeat and remind people there are agencies and people interested in protecting them and their well-being, whether it is immigration, unauthorized around immigration, or other areas where individuals or consumers are not being protected or victimized."

According to the Center for Battered Women's Legal Services, the fact that the woman in the Strauss-Kahn case came forward and reported him to the police may be a psychological turning point for immigrant women workers and students.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid