- In a Day's Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America's Most Vulnerable Workers by Bernice Yeung
Journalistic forays into nonfiction have become increasingly popular and, at times, effective in reaching audiences unfamiliar with important social topics.1 In a Day's Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America's Most Vulnerable Workers2 presents as a tentative excursion into this form of first-person literary nonfiction on a topic fraught with stigma—workplace sexual violence against immigrant women in the United States. Overall, there are serious flaws in the work, primarily in its lack of analytical depth. However, it is certainly much more than a collection of anecdotes, and I would count it worthy of inclusion on the shelf of workplace violence and public policy.
Author Bernice Yeung is a journalist who asserts that the public remains problematically unaware of the prevalence of sexual violence against low-income immigrant women in the workplace—"a topic no one seemed to want to acknowledge or talk about."3 She may be correct, but this is certainly not true for the many who have worked in the field for decades. For example, since the early 1990s, Professor Maria L. Ontiveros has maintained a consistent research focus on [End Page 508] the need for legal protection of female immigrant workers.4 While this appears to be Yeung's first book-length work, she has conducted investigative journalism on her chosen subject,5 relying heavily on accounts previously depicted in two key film documentaries for FRONTLINE while on the reporting team with the Center for Investigative Reporting.6
In a Day's Work is framed by a canny dedication, followed by seven chapters and an important epilogue. The chapters proceed in two parts: first with sexual harassment by workplace type, from janitorial nightshifts, to daytime farm labor, to live-in homecare behind closed doors; and second with an analysis of governmental responses and newly evolving union activism. The organization works well, particularly when first describing varying reasons why women workers could not access official channels to report sexual violence, and then why official channels discredited women's stories because of delays in reporting.
In each setting, a strong case is made for why these hidden workplaces are more dangerous for undocumented women and less protected by law and regulation. Particularly compelling is her identification of non-unionized work sectors, such as cleaning companies, contracted by corporations with little oversight over worker safety.7 Although other areas of employment could have been added, such as the movement for nail salon worker's rights8 or the isolation of au pairs and nannies,9 the author's choices are sound based on the prevalence of violence and the number of women involved. She never professes to cover the whole field of women vulnerable to violence in the workplace.
The dedication first references "the women who shared their stories with us, and to those who couldn't," followed by a reference to her father "who has shown me the importance of crossing borders."10 This is enticing to the reader who naturally wishes to know more about [End Page 509] the author and the source of her concern for the issue, but that is not forthcoming. Both she and the women she writes about are somewhat two-dimensional, for even as the acts of violence are laid out in detail, how the women see their own lives as individuals is very sparsely drawn. The persons who are presented most vividly and given the most voice are the first responders and victim advocates who trusted Yeung enough to give their professional perspectives on policy needs to protect immigrant women workers.
In a Day's Work begins with an introduction to the author herself, inviting the reader to see through her eyes the "most vulnerable", impoverished, sexually victimized, undocumented worker as the other. She frames the view as her own...