Farmworker Justice and Partners Are Working To Address Sexual Harassment In The Fields

In the United States, nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes.1 Farmworker women who experience workplace sexual violence endure the challenges that all survivors face, while also having to overcome additional challenges specific to their communities.

Sexual violence  in agricultural workplaces stems from the power imbalance between employers [or supervisors] and low-wage immigrant workers. Abusers are often supervisors, who have significant control over farmworkers’ lives, including their hours and working conditions. According to a Human Rights Watch report, employers [or supervisors] often give women fewer hours, increase abusive treatment, or fire them and their family members as a form of retaliation for reporting abuse.2 In some instances, farmworker women also live in employer-provided housing; reporting abuse could result in homelessness.

The barriers to justice are also numerous for survivors who attempt to report this abuse. Undocumented workers, although protected under federal law as survivors of sexual violence, have valid fear and distrust of government and law enforcement agencies due to their precarious immigration status. These workers are often under the mistaken impression that they are not protected by U.S. laws and that reporting their abuse can result in deportation. As a result, they avoid any contact with law enforcement. Additionally, access to resources and hotlines that dispel this misinformation are often inaccessible due to barriers in language, technology, and the rural locations of housing and farms. Even hotlines that offer Spanish resources are inaccessible to some of the most vulnerable farmworkers – Indigenous women who may not speak English or Spanish. 

Sexual violence and harassment in our nation’s fields is a complex issue that requires nuanced and comprehensive solutions that account for the many barriers to justice that farmworkers face. Farmworker Justice is addressing this issue head on by offering information in worker’s native languages, through trusted messengers, and connecting them to resources. Farmworker Justice is now working with Líderes Campesinas, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Legal Aid Services of Oregon, and Futures Without Violence to raise awareness of workplace protections and support farmworker women experiencing harassment through our new project Sembrando Respeto y Cosechando Dignidad (Planting Respect and Harvesting Dignity). Over the course of 18 months, we will train over 2,000 women and refer them to legal partners organizations and ancillary services. The project is financed by the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. 

Our community partner, Marlina Campos, at Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) shared the following, 

“For us, bringing this information to our communities is of great importance and educational value, given that even today, especially in Latino communities, this type of subject is considered almost taboo, many people do not speak about it due to shame. This is a result of the lack of education and information in the community, there is still much work to be done so that those who go through this do not remain silent out of fear or shame.”

1 US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report,” November 2011. 

2 Meng, G. (2012). Cultivating fear: The vulnerability of immigrant farmworkers in the US to sexual violence and sexual harassment.