Publication Date


Embargo Period



This report documents experiences of workplace sexual harassment in the California janitorial industry, as well as the conditions that hinder reporting and impose silence. It also examines a survivor- and worker-led peer education approach for confronting workplace sexual harassment. The research conducted for this report incorporated elements of a communitybased participatory research model (CBPR) and included surveys of more than 700 janitorial workers; focus groups with 35 workers; a survey of 36 janitors who are promotoras and compadres (peer educators); and in-depth interviews with four worker leaders. In addition to showing that experiences of sexual harassment and assault are widespread among this workforce, analysis of the resulting data indicates that: 1) Sexual harassment has differential impact within this workforce. In particular, women janitors are more likely to experience unwanted sexual behavior than men; they are also much more likely to be targeted by supervisors and to switch jobs due to harassing behavior. 2) Silence around the issue is enforced by the behavior of supervisors, coworkers, and other actors, along with broader power dynamics and more diffuse elements of workplace culture. These conspire to create an environment in which those targeted report working in fear and grappling with trauma alone. 3) Many survivors do not trust existing channels for reporting and responding to sexual harassment. Building worker leadership and cultivating relationships of trust in confronting sexual harassment can help to break that silence and shift workplace practices and culture.


Suggested Citation
Pinto, S., West, Z., and Wagner, K.C. Sweeping change: Building survivor and worker leadership to confront sexual harassment in the janitorial industry. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, ILR School, The Worker Institute.

Available for download on Monday, November 30, 2020