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An immigrant janitor faced sexual harassment. A Stamford group helped her break the silence

Carla Esquivel, executive director and founder of Nosotras.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
/
Connecticut Public
Carla Esquivel is executive director and founder of Trabajadoras del Hogar: Nosotras, a nonprofit group that provides help to people who've been harassed and advises domestic workers in the Stamford area.
"We are emphasizing that our members know their labor rights," she said.

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Sexual harassment is becoming more of the norm for workers who are scared to speak up due to their immigration status, according to Connecticut advocates.

Nury Lacayo, originally from Honduras, has lived in Connecticut for nine years and had recently worked at a Fairfield County janitorial company doing cleaning work.

She alleges sexual harassment by her boss. Due to her immigration status, Lacayo said she was scared to speak up.

"He made some strange gestures at me, and that's how I realized the guy was harassing me. I used to go up to clean the cabinets, and he was with another man looking at me from the bottom up,” Lacayo said. “I would come home and cry because that was my only job."

Lacayo turned to Trabajadoras del Hogar: Nosotras, a nonprofit organization that provides help to people who've been harassed and advises domestic workers in the Stamford area.

The organization is helping over 1,000 female workers, many of whom are undocumented and from Guatemala, Ecuador and Mexico. Over 20% of members who are domestic workers have experienced sexual harassment, said Carla Esquivel, executive director and founder of Nosotras.

"It happens a lot when the workers live inside the homes where they work,” said Esquivel, an immigrant and domestic worker with 25 years of experience. “Employers also take away their jobs because the workers have not allowed them to be touched. It happens a lot in companies and in factories as well."

Harassment can extend beyond the workplace, too. Lacayo alleges her boss texted and called her after work hours, inviting her to go out. She said after she rejected him, she stopped getting paid in full.

Connecticut Public has reached out to the cleaning company regarding Lacayo's allegations and has not received a response.

Unidad Latina en Acción, an immigrant advocacy group, is partnering with Nosotras regarding Lacayo's claims, said John Jairo, the group's co-founder and community organizing director. They have filed a complaint with the Commission of Human Rights and Opportunity for her accusations of sexual harassment, and with Connecticut’s Department of Labor for claims of wage theft.

A Connecticut Commission of Human Rights and Opportunity reportsays that in 2022, workers filed 443 complaints based on sexual misconduct. Another 34 cases of gender identity violations were filed that year.

Esquivel says LGBTQ+ immigrant domestic workers also deal with sexual harassment and wage theft.

"Sometimes employers tell them to be thankful to them because, for the way they look, nobody will give them work,” Esquivel said. “Other times, people post on Facebook and ask for a cleaning assistant but with insinuations that they also have to provide sexual services."

Esquivel is working with community partners like Unidad Latina en Acción to raise awareness of sexual harassment in the Stamford area and aims to educate employers on the importance of creating a safe and respectful workplace.

"We are emphasizing that our members know their labor rights, and that has led us to work in other areas, such as education, immigration, and health," she said.

Her organization also works to make sure domestic workers have access to resources and support to protect themselves from harassment.

About one in five Hispanic women in the U.S. have experienced rape, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.Also, 50% of transgender peopleexperience sexual violence in their lifetime.

Through Nosotras, Lacayo found a safe place to share her story and seek support. They also gave her resources to help her cope with the trauma and provided her with legal advice.

Lacayo, who eventually found another job, said she hopes the undocumented community in Connecticut knows that there are ways to seek help .

“Don't stay silent,” she said. “In Stamford, many people don't talk about this because we don't have papers."

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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