3 foreign workers report sexual abuse to help line in 1 day

Kav LaOved: It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

By RON FRIEDMAN
March 12, 2010 01:59
A foreign worker taking care of a senior citizen (

foreign worker ass 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved released testimonies on Thursday from three female foreign workers who claim to have been sexually abused by family members of their employers.

None of the women know each other, but all three complained on the same day, marking a new low in the organization’s records. What links the cases, aside from the fact that the complaints were received on the same day in late February, was that in all three cases, the alleged molesters used the threat of job termination and possible deportation to pressure the women into committing or acquiescing to sexual acts.

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Kav LaOved refused to disclose the plaintiffs’ identities, but offered their stories to raise awareness of the phenomenon.

The debt made her stay

B. is a Filipino worker who has been working in Israel for six years. Three-and-a-half years ago, she began working as a caregiver for a sick, elderly woman who lives with her son.

On her first day of work, her employer’s son asked B. to massage him “like in Thailand.” B. flatly refused to touch him and also refused to be touched.

After several months, the son offered B. a loan of $13,000 if she agreed to strip her clothes off in front of him. When she refused, the son suggested that he give her the same loan, but instead of undressing, she would pay him $1,000 interest. B., who paid $3,000 in commission fees to come to Israel, needed the money and agreed to the arrangement.

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B. made sure to pay the son $1,000 every two months from her earnings. All the while, he continued to harass her, asking her to have sex with him and to massage him. Despite her protests, the son would masturbate in front of her.

B. wanted to complain, but feared that if the loan were revealed, she would be forced to return the money immediately. So she continued to pay and put up with the son’s abuses.

Recently the son fired B., claiming she owed him large sums of money and had refused to pay him back.

B. turned to Kav LaOved to help her return to her job with the elderly woman, despite the terrible harassment and humiliation she had experienced. She explained that since she had large debts in her native country and owed money to her employer’s son, she was willing to work at any cost.

Salary for sex

D. is employed by an elderly Alzheimer’s patient who lives with her son. As a condition for her monthly salary, the son demanded that D. have sex with him. The son would leave her alone for the entire month, only approaching her on the 10th, the day she received her salary.

According to the employee, she did not understand at first that his actions were unusual, unreasonable or illegal.

After several months, when she could no longer cope with his actions and asked him to stop, he told her that if she left, she could never find another job, and that he would see to it that she was deported from the country.

The woman said she was afraid to leave the family or to complain about the son because she feared for her life. She turned to Kav LaOved to learn what social rights she would be entitled to if she ever built up the courage to leave her employer.

All attempts to convince the worker to file a complaint against her employer’s son were unsuccessful.

“Stop telling stories”

J. is employed by a disabled woman who stays at home during the week and whose husband works away from home. Once a week, J. takes her employer out of the house for a while to visit the local community center. While her employer is at the center, J. goes back to the house to cook.

J. said the husband would regularly wait for her at the house, where he would harass her physically and verbally – patting her buttocks when she bent down, cupping her breasts, stroking her face and her belly and pressing up against her – until she left the house to collect her employer and bring her back home.

The employee complained to her employment agency, and the company sent a social worker to the employer’s house. The husband denied the accusations and said the story was the product of J.’s wild imagination. The social worker believed the husband and told J. to stop.

After that, the worker complained several more times, but the company refused to send another social worker and advised the employee to “stop telling stories.”

A week ago, the employer’s husband warned J. that if she complained again, he would fire her immediately. Now she is afraid that next time she tells him no, he will throw her out of the house.

Even in this case, the employee refused to complain or give any details about her employer, and only asked for information regarding her rights in case she were fired.

Idit Lebovitch, who oversees the caregiving section at Kav LaOved, said that though it was unprecedented to receive three complaints in a single day, the phenomenon as a whole was widespread. She also said that the complaints the hot line had received were only the tip of the iceberg.

She explained that the nature of the job, where the workers lived with the employers and their families and were with them 24 hours a day, made discovering cases of abuse of any kind nearly impossible.

“Unless the employees file a complaint, something they are extremely hesitant to do, there is simply no way to know,” said Lebovitch.

Lebovitch added that the traditional background of the workers prevented most of them from speaking up about cases of sexual harassment or abuse.

“Where they come from, it’s simply not talked about, and they suffer in silence,” she said.

She tries to bring the issue up herself in every complaint that she receives, she said, because she knows that the women rarely dare to bring it up on their own.

Lebovitch said that when a worker was willing to come forth and file a formal complaint, she would urge them to open a file with the police, but that in 95 percent of the cases, they would refuse, fearing unknown outcomes.

“What we do is take down a testimony before a lawyer and pass it on to officials at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, who can then follow up with an investigation with the employer. The problem is that often, it’s not the employers themselves who do the harassing, and as a result there is not much the officials can do. In some cases, they will freeze or revoke the employer’s permit to employ a foreign worker, but that’s where it stops.”

According to Lebovitch, the only way to combat the phenomenon is to inform the workers of their rights and make the issue public.

“We try to make sure that the workers know what is required of them in the job and what definitely is not,” she said. “We hope that providing them with knowledge will boost their self-confidence and willingness to resist harassment.”

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