Time Magazine named the “Silence Breakers”, women who came out about sexual assault its person of the year. Screenshot of the Time cover due out later this month.
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year turned out to be persons of the year in 2017 as the magazine chose to recognize dozens of “silence breakers” who came forward with their stories of being sexually assaulted or harassed, including Long Beach hotel worker Juana Melara.
Melara joined the likes of Taylor Swift, actors Ashley Judd, Terry Crews and dozens of others who were interviewed by the magazine for its December 18 cover story that has been posted online.
She told Time about guests at the Long Beach Westin exposing themselves and propositioning her while trying to clean their rooms. Melara recounted one guest blocking the doorway “with his erect penis exposed” while she screamed for help. The man eventually left and she locked the door behind him.
Melara was part of a larger contingent of hotel works that shared similar stories before the Long Beach City Council in September just weeks before the #MeToo hashtag circulated online with tens of thousands of users taking to social media to share their stories of being victimized. Seen as a pivotal point for victims being able to come out publicly about their stories, the #MeToo movement has seen a growing number of high ranking executives, politicians and movie stars fall into the column of the accused.
She told the city council of hotel management telling housekeepers of an employee who was raped over a previous Grand Prix weekend and that she too had reported instances of guests’ behavior toward her only to have management make her feel like it was her fault.
During that September 19 meeting, an item aimed at passing protections for hotel workers known as Claudia’s Law was up for a vote. After hours of debate the item was killed with a 5-4 vote by the council causing the audience to chant “shame on you” as the vote was recorded.
The council’s vote passed a resolution supporting hotel workers but stopped short of creating an ordinance that would have set guidelines for hotel operators on how their workers should be shielded from sexual assault and harassment while on the job as well as laying out standards for daily workloads.
In an interview with the Post Wednesday night, Melara said that when she began working on this campaign to shed light on the abuses sustained by hotel workers she never envisioned being recognized like this, she was just trying to make a difference.
When the #MeToo movement took shape in October, she said that she wasn’t surprised to hear that others had suffered the same abuses her and her coworkers have endured over the years. She said sexual assault is something that knows no boundaries and people of all walks of life, education levels and income brackets can be affected by.
“We tried to pass the law in Long Beach in September to help us make this dream come true that the city of Long Beach could be one of the first cities in California to protect women against sexual abuse,” Melara said. “That day I went to work then to stand at city council to speak up about the needs that we have. We stood there until I think midnight just to come out of the city council with broken hearts.”
Although the council voted down Claudia’s Law, Melara said that will not deter her efforts.
“You can write it down,” Melara said. “We’re still going to keep working on that until we get protections. I’m not doing it just for me, it’s for everyone that works in this industry.”
Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who worked as a director of hospitality work for the Los Angeles Alliance for New Economy (LAANE) before running for city council and was one of four co-sponsors of Claudia’s Law, took to Facebook to celebrate Melara’s recognition.
“I have the pleasure of knowing Long Beach’s first ‘Person of the Year’ Juana,” Pearce wrote. “She spoke up. She yelled. She marched. She broke the silence, and she’s been doing it for years. She shared unbelievable stories of assault in the hotel industry, and a majority of our council said ‘sorry, not sorry.’”
Pearce ended her post with a question.
“Will our council finally listen?” she said.
[Editors note: The original story stated that Jeannine Pearce worked as a union organizer; she worked as hospitality director for LAANE prior to her successful run for the second district council seat. The story has been updated to reflect that change.]
Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.
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