Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Supporting Survivors of Workplace Sexual Assault through the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund

Safety, Survivors, TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund

April marks the nineteenth anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), an observance created to bring the epidemic of sexual assault out of the shadows and forge a collective path toward prevention. In 2017, when silence breakers and survivors across the globe joined together to say “me too,” they brought sexual assault and harassment into the floodlights like never before.

More than one in three women and nearly one in four men have experienced sexual assault at some point in their lifetime. And according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), up to 85 percent of women in the United States report having experienced sexual harassment or abuse at work. Low-wage workers – who are disproportionately women of color – are among the most vulnerable to workplace sexual violence. For them, leaving an abusive job can mean choosing between their safety and keeping a roof over their heads.

The size of your paycheck shouldn’t determine your right to a safe workplace or your ability to pursue justice. Since launching in 2018, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund has grown into a vital resource for thousands of survivors of workplace harassment, assault and related retaliation, connecting more than 4,000 workers with legal support. Sixty-seven percent of them identify as low income.

What the workers supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund have experienced is a powerful reminder of all the work left to be done to transform our culture and build a world free of sexual harassment and assault. Here are some of their stories:

Phyu Castillo and May Thin Zar

Phyu has been a letter carrier for the Daly City Post Office in California since 2003. For much of that time, she was sexually harassed and eventually assaulted by her co-worker, but she was too afraid to report him. He would leer at her breasts or grab her hand and try to drag her into the bathroom. One day when he grabbed her, he pressed his erect penis against her, held her against her will, and tried to kiss her.

Soon Phyu learned she wasn’t the only victim. Letter carrier May Thin Zar also experienced assault by the same supervisor. One time, he got her into a room, closed the door, restrained her, and kissed her. She yelled and struggled to get away, finally breaking free.

Legal Aid at Work, supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and attorneys from Stewart & Mussell, LLP, represented Phyu and May. In early November 2019, the parties reached a settlement which prohibits their abuser from ever supervising Phyu or May again, and requires extensive injunctive relief and training throughout the workplace.

Araceli Sanchez and Maria Paramo

Araceli Sanchez and Maria Paramo are janitorial workers in California. For years, they worked long hours cleaning office buildings and other isolated settings, often alone and at night under the supervision of male supervisors.

According to their complaint, the women endured years of unrelenting sexual harassment, sexual violence, and assault. Sanchez explained that her harasser threatened to kill her if she came forward.

Their employer, ABM, has been sued regarding sexual harassment and assault in several cases. The women are being represented by Equal Rights Advocates and attorneys at Lang, Richart & Patch. The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is helping to fund the attorneys in their case.

Get Help Through the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund

If you have faced sexual misconduct — including assault, harassment, abuse, or related retaliation — in the workplace, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is here to help.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You fill out a form online.
  2. If your case involves sexual harassment and related retaliation at work, the Fund will email you with information about lawyers in our network. If your case is about something else, they will provide you with resources to find help another way.
  3. You contact the lawyers. Lawyers in the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund network provide a free consultation.
  4. Your attorney can apply for funding in cases that qualify.
  5. You can also ask for public relations assistance using the Fund’s intake form (answer “yes” to the question about public relations). Note: Not all cases will qualify.

Because of the courage of so many survivors who refused to be silent, the window of opportunity is open for unprecedented change. This SAAM, we ask you to join us in the fight:

Housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center Fund, all operations of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund are completely independent of the TIME’S UP Foundation and TIME’S UP Now. Decisions about cases, eligibility, and funding are made by TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund staff at the National Women’s Law Center Fund based on a rigorous evaluation against a consistent set of guidelines that are in no way influenced by any outside agenda, person, organization, or entity.