June 7, 2019
Standing Up, Speaking Out
Amy Zhang began working as an interpreter at Cyber Specialist to help support herself while she was a student at City College. The owner of Cyber Specialist, Raymond Lai, was a family acquaintance who promised her opportunities and professional development in the translation services industry. She felt fortunate to gain valuable work experience under the guidance of a well-respected community member.
Instead, over the course of her employment, Lai used work-related pretenses to meet with Amy alone in his car, over meals, and in the basement office of a residential home. During those times, he sexually harassed her by making comments about her appearance and repeatedly touching her hands, arms, shoulders, face, back, and lap. The harassment culminated in forced full-body embraces, during which Lai refused to release Amy unless she “hugged” him back. The forced full-body embraces took place in Lai’s basement office, adjacent to a room with a small bed, a fact that only added to Amy’s dread.
Fearing further assault, Amy left the job, changed her cell phone number, and avoided any place she might run into Lai. It wasn’t until her step-mother, a former client of ALC’s, urged her to report the incident and seek help from Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus that she decided to come to Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. Amy ultimately decided to pursue a legal case and tell her story in part to stop Lai from harassing other young women. She also wants other immigrant and low-wage women workers who are being harassed to know that they have rights, that they are not alone, and that there are safe places they can go to seek help.
“There are too many women with stories like mine who are scared to come forward,” Amy has said. “It’s not just movie stars or famous people. It’s women from all different backgrounds, including Asian Americans, immigrants, and young people. I wanted to speak out so that other women like me know they are not alone.”
Instrumental to Amy’s decision to come forward with her story was the support she received from her family. While sexual harassment remains a taboo subject in many immigrant communities, Amy’s family urged her to seek justice by pursuing legal action. She is fortunate to have such encouragement: Many immigrant women cite the stigma surrounding harassment and attracting attention as reasons that their families prevent them from seeking help, thereby perpetuating the cycle of silence.
While Amy’s case is still ongoing, she hopes that her experience will encourage those facing similar situations to tell their stories: “I didn’t come forward just for myself,” she said. “Change will happen only if we call out injustice when it occurs. We deserve to live in a world free from harassment. The first step is making our voices heard.”