Spectre Of Sexual Harassment Haunts Foreign Childminders

Janaina Meneghal uncovers the story of the sexual harassment of a Brazilian childminder looking for work in Ireland

‘If I pay you €30 an hour would you clean the house in your underwear?” After advertising in a local newspaper for work as a babysitter, that is what a Brazilian student was asked by an Irishman who interviewed her for the job. DP, who does not want her name published, has live in Ireland for four years, and has been left worried after the proposal.

She has been looking for a part-time job during the past month and thought childminding would be ideal, since she has some experience in the area, and also needs her free time for studying. After the advert was published, she received five phone calls from people looking for a babysitter. “When I got the calls, I was really excited, because this is something I look forward to doing. From the five calls I got, all of them were male callers and three were indecent proposals,” she said.

According to her description, all the men seemed to have an Irish background. “One of the guys texted me saying he was a 70-year-old man who needed someone to do the housework. Right after that he asked for a picture of me.” A different man asked her to meet him in a mini-skirt, and a third asked the most appalling question of all.

“In the beginning, he only asked normal questions regarding my experience, my educational background and why I was willing to work as a sitter. Suddenly he proposes I clean his house in my underwear. I could barely believe my ears,” the 22-year-old student told the Sunday Independent.

The Brazilian woman says she did not contact gardai about it because she didn’t know what the consequences would be; she believes the incidents did not happen due to her nationality. “I don’t think they did it because I’m Brazilian, but because I’m a foreigner living here, which makes me more vulnerable and lonely. Maybe some of these men think we’re more likely to accept something like that.”

All the specialised agencies and recruitment websites make sure they offer a number of options to people looking for a new employee. “If you want to work as a childminder these days, you’re not even allowed to apply if you don’t have some kind of training or over five years’ experience in some cases, which I think is more than correct. On the other hand, some of these websites offer no guarantees that the people who put up the ads are actually telling the truth,” said another Brazilian student, Priscyla Francelino.

She lived in Ireland for a year before returning to Brazil, and also had a bad experience while working as an au pair. “I was with the kids one night and their parents went out for drinks. When the father arrived back on his own at about 10pm, he started yelling at me, asking why I still hadn’t organised the children’s toys.” Priscyla went to a friend’s house after she had put the children to sleep, and was surprised when she got a phone call from the mother at 3am.

“She called me, apparently drunk, saying I had to be there early the next day. I got there while they were having breakfast, was ignored and then had to listen to them saying horrible things to me. That I was stupid, indecent and wasn’t able to take care of children,” she said.

Carol Flynn is the owner and managing director of a company which offers childcare solutions for parents, creche and Montessori, as well as services to experienced job-seekers. With over 15 years’ experience in the world of children and recruitment, Carol says that her agency is unlike many recruitment websites.

“We’re very different from the jobs websites people visit every day. We do have an official site, but it is only the first step of the process. People can’t apply to vacancies using our website. Everything is dealt over the telephone and we ask the candidates to come for interviews and sign our terms and conditions before we can move any further. We’re very strict both with professionals looking for work and parents who need a person to work for them,” she said.

Carol also indicates that people who wish to work in this area should go to specialised agencies instead of placing personal advertisements in newspapers or on websites. “At least we have control on who are our job-seekers and families. If you put up an ad in a newspaper, for example, there’s not enough information on the person in case you get in trouble,” she said.

DP agrees with Carol Flynn. “I’m glad it happened to me instead of someone else. At least I have fluent English and am perfectly capable of understanding what people tell me. Imagine if my comprehension wasn’t so good. What then? What about all these foreigners in Ireland at the moment who come to improve their English skills, whose comprehension of the language isn’t very good?” she said.

“I’m sure there are great families out there, but I believe that if you’re looking for a job in someone’s house, be it as a babysitter, a cleaner or a care- giver, it is better to stick to professional agencies, which will be able to help you or the family in case anything goes out of the way.”