Some two to three million farmworkers are employed across the United States, the majority of whom are immigrants from Mexico. And accordingly to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, women make up 32% of that workforce.
Farmworkers are already placed in difficult working environments, exposed to pesticides and unprotected by labor laws, leading to cases of extreme labor exploitation and trafficking.
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Yet conversations around improving labor protections of farmworkers hasn’t delved deep into the very real problem of sexual violence faced by female farmworkers at the hands of fellow laborers, employers, and others.
Teen Vogue reports:
The migrant nature of farm work lends itself to creating unsafe conditions. As workers travel from state to state with the changing harvest seasons, they often rely on their crew leaders for transportation, creating a dependence that gives leaders uneven power over workers that can easily be abused.
Such was the case with Patricia M., a Mexican farmworker interviewed in 2012 by the Human Rights Watch, who recounted that when she was 23 years old, the foreman in charge of driving her and other farm employees to work took her to a secluded location and assaulted her. Because she was scared of coming forward and losing her job, the abuse continued until she became pregnant.
And when their immigration status is used against them, some women may be coerced into even deeper silence. In 2018, The Atlantic profiled one such woman who alleged in a lawsuit that her crew manager threatened to report her to authorities for deportation if she complained about his continued sexual advances.
Activist and civil rights attorney Mónica Ramírez explained that fear of retaliation is pervasive. In cases where women have reported abuses, she says she has seen“firing to demotion to docked pay to other very serious incidents of violence against them and continued sexual violence.”
There is hope that the Violence Against Women Act will be reauthorized by Congress since it expired during the recent government shutdown.
In its most recent reauthorization in 2013, Congress authorized appropriations for the provisions of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which can help immigrant women who have experienced violence of who have been trafficked obtain non-immigrant visas in the US.
Ramírez added that consumers have their own role to play to in pushing companies to treat farmworkers better.
“It’s also important for us to remember the power that we have as consumers and to know about some of the consumer campaigns that are underway that affect the rights of farmworkers and other workers,” she said.