New Anti-Harassment Unit Targets Employers Abusing Immigrants

Daniela Contreras is a workplace harassment victim. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

What should have been another day at work 19 years ago changed Daniela Contreras’ life forever. Today, at 35, the Mexican immigrant remembers how her boss sexually harassed her when she was only 16, but her immigration status and the fear of not being believed made her stay quiet.

Contreras, who arrived in New York at age 11, was traumatized by the horrifying experience for years until the Me Too movement in Hollywood encouraged her to share her story in a special audio series about sexual assault experiences.

“I could not believe that a man would take advantage of a child; he knew I wasn’t going to say anything because I couldn’t speak the language and I needed the money,” said Contreras. She pointed out that part of the difficulty for victims to denounce sexual harassment by their employers is that they are undocumented.

“Many of them don’t know that there is help available,” said the survivor, who years after her experience finally found a “helping hand” in the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), founded in 2007 (…)

Contreras now divides her time between her daughter and working as a community organizer at NDWA in New York.

“There is a real fear for these women who, in many cases, are undocumented and need to keep their jobs,” she said. “Furthermore, we come from a very sexist society that makes us think that harassment is OK and it shouldn’t be that way. We need more protection.”

(…) However, the launch of a new unit against this crime is fighting employers who assault their workers, especially immigrants. (…)

The Gender-Based Anti-Harassment Unit, part of the city’s Human Rights Commission, was recently unveiled by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who explained that its mission is to more effectively intervene and investigate sexual and gender-based harassment in the workplace.

(…) Reports of sexual and gender-based harassment have increased in the past three years. According to the Human Rights Commission, of 117 workplace gender discrimination complaints filed in 2017, 56 included a gender-based harassment complaint, compared to 48 in 2014.

“As reports of sexual and gender-based harassment continue to come in from every corner of the city, the need for swift intervention could not be more crucial,” said Human Rights Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis. Her team is currently investigating 180 such complaints.

Malalis explained that since sexual harassment victims frequently experiment additional discrimination based on race, immigration status or disability, they are often afraid of speaking up for fear of losing their job.

“This new unit will allow the Commission to immediately addressing ongoing harassment and retaliation and rooting out widespread harassment more effectively,” said the official, adding that under the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act signed by Mayor de Blasio last May, the statute of limitations for filing cases at the commission was extended from one to three years.

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