Why You Should Watch 'Rape on the Night Shift'
Start writing a post
Politics and Activism

Why You Should Watch 'Rape on the Night Shift'

A FRONTLINE documentary on an underreported issue

824
Why You Should Watch 'Rape on the Night Shift'
Freebie Photography

FRONTLINE is often where I look for documentaries to learn about a current issue, either largely discussed or neglected. When looking for cross-cultural documentaries, I prefer to find those that focus on intersectional issues – in this case, the high risk of sexual harassment and assault for low-income, immigrant women, most of them (at least shown in the documentary) Latina, who work janitorial shifts at night. Rape on the Night Shift was a sequential investigation after Rape on the Fields, which examined the same critical and sensitive issue with a different setting. The cases in Rape on the Night Shift ranged from Minnesota to California to Pennsylvania, in office buildings and stores where facility cleaning companies like ABM Industries and Service Management Systems (SMS) with sites across the country employ janitors for cleaning services. Produced by Andrés Cediel and Daffodil Altan with correspondent Lowell Bergman, the film was an investigative collaboration by FRONTLINE, KQED, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, Univision and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The overwhelming ratio of women presenting their testimonies of sexual assault are Latina immigrants, many of whom are undocumented and financially and sexually exploited because their lack of legal residence. The film covers the backlog of accessibility to these visas for undocumented victims, the culture of hostility in law enforcement and an at least year-long process of approval by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (the same governing body to which many of the undocumented janitors in the film were threatened by their abusive supervisors to be reported).

The film advocates for increased awareness of the public, investigation into sexual assault complaints by janitorial companies and recognition of survivors’ testimonies by the justice system. This was evident by the types of questions Lowell Bergman asked the female janitors (focusing on their rape testimonies) in contrast with the questions he asked the janitorial companies’ representatives, which were confrontational, in most cases showing them video clips of the testimonies and asking “Where is her justice?” However, the approach of the Frontline investigative team was journalistic and fair in that they clarified they had reached out multiple times to both the male supervisors that multiple female janitors had accused of rape for interviews, only to be denied. This was when the zoom feature of the video camera became effective, showing both men at different points in the film outside their homes, dodging the camera. Footage of the depositions of the men denying the rape accusations also effectively contributed to the story. It was clear in the film that there were not just two sides (the raped women and the rapist supervisors) but that this issue is multi-faceted, involving a district attorney involved in one of the survivors’ lawsuits, representatives from ABM and SMS, a husband of one of the survivors, an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney, a representative from the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund (an organization that investigates companies for illegal and unethical janitorial practices) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

The investigation took place soon after the journalistic failure of the Rolling Stone/University of Virginia controversy, which prompted the producers to completely avoid anonymous sources and be diligent about interviewing the accused supervisors. The investigation launched from lawsuits and the reporting team verified through records from the U.S. Department of Labor, law enforcement and Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections. The journalists interviewed more than 200 sources and it was aired and published online in both English and Spanish on June 23, 2015., which prompted the producers to completely avoid anonymous sources and be diligent about interviewing the accused supervisors. The investigation launched from lawsuits and the reporting team verified through records from the U.S. Department of Labor, law enforcement and Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections. The journalists interviewed more than 200 sources and it was aired and published online in both English and Spanish on June 23, 2015.

After publishing the film, FRONTLINE published articles about sexual assault in the workplace statistics, preventative measures, a podcast on accountability, among other informative features. I think this was an effective way to use multiple modes of journalism to carry the impact of the film’s message. In April 2016, the film won the nonprofit journalism organization Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. award for Broadcast/Video – Large category. The judges said that the documentary “brought needed attention to this issue." ABM Industries settled one of the cases discussed in the film in December 2015, agreeing to an outside review of rape claims in its California sites. EEOC San Francisco Office Director Bill Tamayo said at that time that “more police are looking at this and making arrests."

I agree with the angle by which the film topic was handled. It was journalistic in the sense of thorough investigation, with legal, business and socioeconomic levels effectively addressed, but effectively communicated the message that this is an underreported (both in the criminal justice system and in media) issue. I think that if FRONTLINE had taken a strictly down-the-middle approach, it would have been no better than any other janitorial company’s policy, like SMS, in handling employee sexual assault complaints to require the accused supervisor to gather evidence, as well. This is technically down-the-middle, but as an SMS representative later admits, doesn’t make sense. Additionally, the film uses a good balance of narration and interviews, and effectively uses soundbites from some of the testimonies to voice over b-roll shots of the women cleaning windows or closing the blinds, which conveys a symbolic message of the lack of transparency and accountability in many of these janitorial companies’ policies in handling employee sexual assault cases. This message is also conveyed with the lighting, which is overwhelmingly dark throughout the film with mostly artificial light sources, indicating the harsh reality for many workers of the night shift.

I found myself talking to my roommate about the vulnerability of female janitors and encouraging a friend with similar interests to watch the film. I learned the significance of this issue and just how many this vulnerable situation affects. After watching it, the next day I drove through D.C. at night looking at office buildings with lights still on and wondered who was cleaning them inside. I can’t look at the industry the same again.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

In an already unprecedented political landscape, things aren't looking so bright for mail-in voters heading into November's election. In 46 states and Washington D.C., post offices received a warning that mail-in ballots may not be counted on time to count on election day, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Keep Reading... Show less
FOX

"New Girl" is one of the best sitcoms of all time. Honestly, it is so much fun to watch, so much fun to relate to, just all around a great show.

Not only is a great show, it has so many different great settings, obviously including the loft. If you live by Nick Miller quotes and desperately tried to learn how to play "True American," you need to buy these things because you are a true "New Girl" fan.

Keep Reading... Show less

You know those items you've been pinning to your Home board on Pinterest for [insert amount of time]? Well, it's officially the moment to turn that wishlist into a married life reality, and it's going to be SO fun.

But, before you get to shopping and adding things to your upgraded bridal wishlist (sorry, Pinterest, it was lovely while it lasted), you'll first want to decide where you want to open your registry (or registries, if you want options). Here are 17 of the best websites and stores to consider saying "I do" to for your wedding registry, to have and to hold for as long as people are buying you wedding gifts.

Keep Reading... Show less

If you've ever been in the dating game, or currently are, chances are you've had a date gone wrong. These are often times super embarrassing, but they are always funny to look back on.

Keep Reading... Show less

I just recently got engaged and planning a wedding during a pandemic is actually kind of a nightmare.

A lot of venues are taken for 2021 because of corona brides and grooms who have had to reschedule their weddings and the same goes for other vendors and literally everything else.

Keep Reading... Show less

While promoting her most recent movie, "Work It," Sabrina Carpenter has divulged some of her favorite beauty products to interviewers.

Keep Reading... Show less

When I say we can't stop thinking about the relationship advice Miley Cyrus dropped on "Call Her Daddy" today, I mean it literally.

Her truth bombs hit me (and most who listened) like a wrecking ball and coupled with the release of her new song "Midnight Sky," we're going to need some time to process the greatness. In case you haven't listened yet (what are you waiting for?), here are 10 relationship tips Miley shared that we should all live by for the rest of time.

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

Founders Of Color: Rec Room's Dre Taylor On What Blackness Can Look Like And Not Working For Free

"It mattered to me that when we were depicting racial diversity for Rec Room, we showed the broad spectrum of what Blackness can look like."

Rec Room

The world of sustainable fashion is inundated with marketing gimmicks, false advertising, and large corporations cutting corners — Rec Room is the pure antithesis of that.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

5 At-Home Therapy Tips You Need, No Matter What Your Therapy Routine Is

Whether you're in a Zoom session or live-chatting, make sure your home therapy space is good to go.

No matter what stigmas you held about therapy before this year, I'm sure 2020 has affirmed that we could ALL use a nice long therapy session. Between wildfires that took over an entire continent, a global health crisis, and what's sure to be one giant circus of an election in the United States, we need help and we need it now.

The fact of the matter is, therapy has been a helpful, valid resource long before the world decided to become one giant dumpster fire. Having a safe space to discuss what's going on in your life, worries you have, and struggles you're facing has become a very normal thing for individuals' mental health.

Keep Reading... Show less

Dunkin' just announced that they'll be releasing their fall menu earlier than ever — set to debut on August 19 — and that it'll include new menu options this season, including a new signature pumpkin spice latte. Let me just say, Starbucks has some fall-menu competition now.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments