EDITORIAL: Fight back

TRLA aims to help residents identify, end sex-based abuse

The popular internet tag #MeToo represents an effort to put an end to sex-based abuse across the United States. While it began with heavily reported accusations of misconduct, including sexual assault, by major entertainment and news personalities, organizers and advocates are quick to point out that people face the same issues at all levels of the workplace and other venues.

Mercedes-based Texas RioGrande Legal Aid recently announced the launch of a local program to help Rio Grande Valley residents fight sex-based mistreatment.

TRLA is and partner organizations RGV Equal Voice Network and Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center have created a “Nuestra Voz/Our Voice” campaign to expand the #MeToo movement into South Texas. The organizations, which have expanded to other parts of the state, have launched the same campaign in El Paso and San Antonio as well.

The campaign will conduct workshops on sexual harassment, including what can be classified as sexual harassment or abuse and how people can protect themselves and their jobs.

Identifying the misconduct could be the most valuable resource, since workers might wonder if mistreatment might include expecting women to perform servile duties such as brewing coffee or making copies, or expecting men to be more willing to work overtime or miss family events.

“Through this campaign we’re going to bust the myths about what is and isn’t sexual harassment,” TRLA attorney Kathryn Youker said in a news release announcing the campaign. She added that the campaign will inform people of their rights, and how and where they can invoke them.

The #MeToo movement grew from a wave of accusations of sexual abuse against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017. Well-known actresses including Alyssa Milano, Ashley Judd and Jennifer Lawrence shared on social media that they too had suffered abuse. Their posts exposed accused abusers, and also just how rampant sexual mistreatment was in the news and entertainment industry.

And if famous actresses who make millions of dollars per movie face such abuse, it’s not surprising that it would also occur at other workplaces, especially where people might fear that they’ll lose their jobs if they challenge authority. Workers might be told that certain behaviors are based on our culture, or they might fear losing their jobs and being unable to feed their families.

“Low-wage workers and women of color are among those most vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse, in part because they are kept uninformed about their rights,” says Sharyn Tejani, director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, which provided a grant to support the local campaign. “We want survivors to know that there are resources available to help them fight workplace sexual misconduct.”

TRLA has offices all across the Valley. For more information on this and other TRLA services, visit TRLA.org/help. Sexual assault survivors can call a hotline, (800) 991-5153.