Financial abuse is rarely talked about when discussing intimate partner and gender-based violence. However, economic realities permeate all realms of a survivors’ life. In fact, financial abuse and uncertainty around how a survivor might be able to pay for basic needs for themself and their children is cited as the most significant factor in preventing someone from leaving an abusive situation. It occurs in 98% of domestic violence relationships. The ability to access, attain and maintain a job is inextricably linked to survivors’ ability to pay rent, access medical care, pay for their education, and make decisions around their safety and wellbeing.
Many survivors are not aware that they have protected rights within the workplace. So many people experience harm and violence in their workplaces but feel unable to leave or take action because they do not know where else they could make money. This is especially true for people in the U.S. who do not speak English, or who are undocumented. Our systems and structures make these people especially vulnerable to exploitation — forcing many workers in the position to endure violence or a violation of their rights just to survive. These violations take an extreme in the form of human trafficking, where someone is compelled through force, fraud, or coercion into any form of work.
API Chaya is a national leader in serving immigrant survivors of human trafficking. We also recognize that labor violations manifest in a range of ways, and our workers’ rights organizing seeks to address and prevent workplace violence across this entire spectrum of harm. We want to stop harm before it escalates. Because basic survival depends on being able to make money, API Chaya seeks to create options for workers to address harm at their jobs, rather than quit, ultimately building power and safer working conditions for everyone.
API Chaya’s approach to worker support is four-fold. One, advocates help provide information, referral and guidance to survivors who also have had their rights violated in the workplace. We can do warm-handoffs in their own languages to the appropriate agencies for resolution. This looks like government agencies who can ensure they are given back-pay and get to keep their jobs if wanted. Two, API Chaya partners with other grassroots and community-based organizations for community education and power-building. This way the information on minimum wage, wage theft, paid sick and safe time, and other labor protections reaches a wide network of volunteers and survivors, who can then educate their own networks, in their own languages — allowing it to reach the maximum number of people.
Three, through a partnership with the Office of Labor Standards, API Chaya ensures survivors are supported through any investigations that happen as a result of filing a complaint with a monitoring body. And finally, API Chaya reaches out to small businesses offering training to employers on how to support survivors in the workplace, and ensure they are compliant with the current labor ordinances in Seattle. This multifaceted approach ensures wraparound worker support; and creates conditions where harm can be both interrupted and prevented. It also creates supportive environments for survivors in their workplace, making it more likely that someone will disclose that they are experiencing violence, and be able to get help.
The most important right survivors and workers have is the right to organize. API Chaya was founded through the determination of community members who came together to build power towards the vision of a world free from violence. What started in living rooms is now a robust agency that has worked with thousands of people over nearly 30 years.
The worker rights trainings we host today continue to honor that legacy by including a brief history of how organizing led to the positive changes in the workplace and how it continues to be an important aspect of creating a better and brighter future for survivors of violence. If you are experiencing harm at work, or believe that your rights are being violated, we invite you to reach out to API Chaya. We are here for you.