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“We Thought It was Normal That You Had to Have Sex to Keep Your Job”

“We Thought It was Normal That You Had to Have Sex to Keep Your Job”

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on March 12, 2013. Enjoy.

What price are you willing to pay for cheap produce? How about a culture of sexual assault and rape so widespread that one female farmworker starkly said that “We thought it was normal in the U.S. that you had to have sex to keep your job.”

For the more than 400,000 immigrant women working on farms and in meat-packing plants and other agricultural processing facilities across the U.S., sexual assault is a daily part of the job, as are poor working conditions like limited access to toilets, shade, fresh water and food. Most of these workers are making less than minimum wage, which is still more than they can earn at home, and they live in a constant fear of deportation, a fear exploited by the men who assault them.

In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a detailed study looking at the conditions endured by immigrant women on U.S. farms.  What they found was shocking and revolting. Many survey respondents reported an atmosphere of repeat rape and sexual assault, citing some farms as so bad that they’d acquired biting nicknames like “field of panties” or “the Green Motel” (a reference to being raped between row crops). For all the cheap produce these farms churned out for eager U.S. consumers, workers routinely suffered in a work environment where it was difficult to seek legal redress, and not much has changed since 2010.

The problem for workers is that reporting crimes comes with the embedded threat of deportation. This is used as a tool for intimidation by supervisors and others who sexually harass, molest and rape workers, suggesting that if they tell anyone, they’ll be sent out of the country. Now that crossing the border is much more difficult and the job situation in Central and South America is even more dire, deportation is a particularly serious threat — and many women are not aware that they may be entitled to consideration under a visa program for victims of violence and sexual assault.

If workers do manage to find an advocacy group or similar organization, communication can be a barrier. Many immigrant farmworkers are Spanish-speaking and don’t speak any English at all, which limits their options, and some speak only indigenous languages, offering even fewer choices for finding support. If they choose to come forward with reports of sexual assault, immigration services often become involved as translators, even if local law enforcement have no intent of trying to deport them, and they can become trapped in a request for identification that turns a sexual assault report into a detention and deportation case.

Some law enforcement agencies are trying different approaches to the situation, focusing on getting help for victims and taking their claims seriously. For farmworkers in regions covered by such compassionate law enforcement, rape doesn’t have to end in silence or deportation, but it can be difficult to know what kind of treatment will be offered ahead of time unless advocates can reach potential victims and interact with them, something made difficult by tactics like forcing workers to stay in company housing or threatening workers with deportation if they’re seen talking with people from advocacy groups.

The epidemic of sexual assault staining the agriculture industry of the U.S. is something that all residents should be ashamed of, and it’s something that requires urgent action. These cases need to be pursued seriously and without the threat of deportation, and the U.S. needs immediate comprehensive immigration reform so that immigrant women won’t be viewed as such easy targets.

Related articles:

Hope for Farmworkers in 2013?

No Day of Rest for America’s Farm Workers

US Female Farmworkers: Silent Victims of Sexual Violence

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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609 comments

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2:01PM PST on Nov 22, 2014

I'm a white American born female, but when I was a disabled teen I thought I had to have sex to keep my job. That's just how many men want it to be. The penis, not the brain, still rules in too many ways.

6:14PM PST on Nov 20, 2014

I find it hard to understand why a man would want to or enjoy sex with someone who wasn't a willing participant, perhaps it is simply about physical gratification without thought or feelings for anyone but themselves, this is horrible.

Yes I think that we should know where or food is sourced from and that the producers are following some ethical guidelines in its production. Maybe a scheme similar to the FairTrade as we have for coffee and chocolate might work.

7:37PM PST on Nov 5, 2014

That is horrific.

It is sad that people (or rather rapists) get away with bullsh*t.

8:24AM PST on Nov 5, 2014

We have no idea at what cost our fresh, frozen & canned vegetables & fruit are brought to our tables! Thanks to those journalists, like S. E. Smith, who bring these facts to our attention. The solution requires some dedication on the part of consumers: either buy locally at our farmers' markets or start your own gardens!

8:16AM PDT on Oct 21, 2014

we need to ask our stores to check that their produce doesn't come from places where this is happening.

11:16AM PDT on Oct 18, 2014

Live long and prosper

12:28PM PDT on Oct 15, 2014

Gulp! How does this get started?

6:33AM PDT on Oct 13, 2014

We have to respect women

9:55AM PDT on Oct 11, 2014

No, it is not normal.

8:36PM PDT on Oct 10, 2014

How about a petition to get that Immigration Reform N O W !!!!!

Very sad and disgusting. My heart goes out to all of these women!

These men are vile creatures who .....don't care for,.... or love women.... AT ALL!

Thank goodness for the caring men out there who do love and respect women! If not for them, women would hate all men!

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