In 2013, Jamaican immigrant June Barrett (they/them) had landed a new care working job as a live-in aid to an elderly man. Because of the wage increase, they were excited to have the job, however, on the very first night, the client had asked them to come to bed with him. Following that night and for years later, Barrett had was repeatedly sexual assaulted by the man, feeling isolated, ashamed and embarrassed. They did not raise a complaint to the agency because they would’ve put them out of work which Barrett couldn’t afford with rent and mediation on the line.
“I didn’t have a safety net. I didn’t have anywhere to turn at that time. It was just me and him or them, the family who literally saw him touch me and grab me by my breast. That was what happened in the home from 2013 to 2018,” said Barrett.
During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s important to shine a light on the survivors of sexual assault who often go unnoticed: domestic workers. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has drafted a Bill of Rights to ensure workers receive protections to prevent them from being sexually assaulted at work and retaliated against if they report.
Barrett, now a leader of NDWA’s We Dream in Black Project and the Miami Workers Center, used their story to signal a call to action. They said racism, sexism, classism and immigration play a role in the lack of attention drawn to domestic workers. Specifically, the legacy of slavery has woven itself into the power dynamics between domestic workers and the clients they work for.
The 2021 NDWA Survey also found domestic workers, containing a majority immigrant population, work in private residences alone making them more vulnerable to sexual harassment. They are also excluded from protections under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because they are independent contractors.
More from the NDWA’s Survey:
Domestic workers are one of the fastest growing workforces in the nation, yet these nannies, house cleaners and home care workers have historically been excluded from worker protections and, as a result, often have no benefits, little protections, and little recourse or enforcement mechanism. A 2021 National Domestic Workers Alliance survey of domestic workers also reported:
Only 16% of domestic workers have a written agreement with their employer.
Over one-third of domestic workers do not get meal and rest breaks and of those that do, only 34% of those who get meal and rest breaks are paid for those breaks.
81% of domestic workers receive no pay if their employer cancels on them with less than three-days notice, and 76% receive no pay if their employer cancels on them after they show up for work.
23% of domestic workers do not feel safe at work.
Domestic workers began raising awareness about their experiences through the #MeToo movement with NDWA executive director Ai-jen Poo pushing their voices forward. The campaign has since inspired states including New York and California to expand their protections under sexual harassment laws to domestic workers, reported Vox.
In addition to #MeToo, NDWA supported the TIME’S UP Foundation joining the discussion about sexual harassment with women in Hollywood as well as entering the global conversation on sexual assault by meeting with the women of the United Nations.
“In 2016, for the first time [South Florida] had a domestic workers assembly where over 500 domestic workers gathered to share their stories. I was at home in Jamaica when I got a call and they asked me, “Can you tell your story?” I was afraid but that day I told my story for the first time. The shame I was feeling left and my healing begun and that empowered other women to take the first step,” said Barrett.
Barrett says to continue spreading awareness, sign the petition to urge Congress to pass the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
“It is very important that we get this bill passed because I’m tired. It’s been 20 years. I don’t want to die without seeing this bill passed - so we can leave a legacy for the care workers and the nannies who are coming behind us. We’ll have written agreements, fair wages, affordable healthcare, paid time off and training and workforce development. I’m speaking not just for me but the women I speak to everyday,” said Barrett.