The #MeToo movement sweeping America is not exclusively the purview of famous Hollywood actresses. It’s also taking hold in Miami-Dade.
It’s taking hold with African American and Hispanic, immigrant and poor women, who are making their voices heard. Often, they’re the women who clean our bathrooms, make the beds in Miami Beach hotels and take care of the elderly.
It’s about time. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual abuse are reprehensible acts — no matter the income, skin color or notoriety of the victim.
But when low-skilled workers are victimized, their economic status too often holds them hostage, said Marcia Olivo, director of the Miami Workers Center, who launched weekly meetings where such women can share their stories. “The situation is different for the working women we represent,” Olivo told the Miami Herald Editorial Board. Often, they simply endure and don’t complain because they need can’t risk losing their jobs. They have to pay the rent, feed the kids. Hiring an attorney is out of the question.
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Fighting for their dignity takes a back seat.
The weekly meetings at the Miami Worker’s Center have given these women a platform “to speak their truth,” as Oprah Winfrey calls it. It’s become a model for the rest of the country, and that’s something we should all be proud of. The spotlight shone on the center’s work after el Nuevo Herald reporter Brenda Medina wrote a touching front-page article about the horror stories women revealed at a recent meeting.
A maid told of the naked hotel guest who tried to pull her into his bed. A housekeeper complained that a 14-year-old boy in the family groped her — only to be told by his mother that he was simply “reaching puberty.” The women — sometimes for the first time — told how their own childhoods were stolen from them by sexual abuse. Powerful stuff.
“We’re getting calls from organizations from across the country wanting to duplicate our meetings,” said Olivo. Because of the demand, Thursday’s Women’s Circle meeting will be on Facebook Live and shared with another women’s organization in New York.
Winfrey rightly said at the Golden Globes that victims include “women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants.”
Olivo saw the need for a platform for the women Winfrey spoke of. Until now, the center mainly fought to improve the working conditions and salaries of women with low-paying jobs, but she realized that the national debate about sexual harassment and abuse cuts deep with women who frequently carry the scars and burden of sexual abuse in silence.
What are hotels and factories in South Florida doing to ensure a safe environment for women? In the past, organizations like the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association have shied away from discussing complaints of sexual harassment of housekeepers, saying their concern centered on housing and working conditions. In 2016, slate.com published an eye-opening story about the sexual harassment and abuse that local hotel housekeepers endure during the out-of-control excesses of Spring Break, and beyond: “Some guests make inappropriate requests, such as asking for an oil rub, or call for special service and then corner a housekeeper and try to touch her.”
Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, promises a different path — as well she should. She told the Editorial Board:
“Sexual harassment is completely unacceptable and should never be tolerated, whether in the workplace or otherwise. Many of our member hotels have policies and practices in place prohibiting and addressing this topic. We continue to support the efforts of our hotels and industry-related businesses to ensure that our employees are safe from sexual harassment. All employers have a responsibility to make the workplace a safe environment for their employees.”
good start. Now, what declaration of #TimesUp are other South Florida industries going to make?