Human Rights Report Details Rampant Sexual Abuse Of US Women Farmworkers
The United States agriculture industry has become a subject of much scrutiny in the present day, as years of policies towards unsustainable farming, reckless use of chemicals and abusive labor practices have painted a picture of a nation out of synch with food justice as a human right. Now comes a report from Human Rights Watch that female farmworkers are at great risk for sexual abuse.
The number of women who work on farms in the United States is in the hundreds of thousands, and national trends over the years have led to much consolidation of the industry, with larger farms covering more and more territory. Fewer employers are now in control of hiring workers than in years past, holding more power over their workers. Sex abuse and the silence of its victims are often attributed to the exploitation of power of one person over another.
Many of the victims are reported to be immigrant workers, who are particularly vulnerable through appropriate criminal justice and labor rights offices.
Human Rights Watch, an international non-profit organization specializing in creating detailed reports of violations to people’s human rights, published “Cultivating Fear” in May, receiving national media attention for the details that emerged. The document explicitly details the core problem of sexual abuse on United States farms, challenging public officials to confront these crimes.
From Summary of “Cultivating Fear”
Sexual violence and harassment in the agricultural workplace are fostered by a severe imbalance of power between employers and supervisors and their low-wage, immigrant workers. Victims often then face systemic barriers—exacerbated by their status as farmworkers and often as unauthorized workers—to reporting these abuses and bringing perpetrators to justice. To meet its human rights obligations to these farmworkers suffering sexual violence and harassment, the US government and agricultural employers must take steps to reduce and eliminate these barriers. This report documents the experience of immigrant farmworker women and girls with workplace sexual violence and harassment—with particular attention to unauthorized immigrants—and sets forth detailed recommendations for improving their working conditions and access to services and legal remedies.
Such violence and harassment are rarely singular events; many women reported that perpetrators had harassed and abused multiple victims over a period of time. Human Rights Watch’s investigation found that, in most cases, perpetrators are foremen, supervisors, farm labor contractors, company owners, and anyone else who has the power to hire and fire workers as well as confer certain benefits, such as better hours or permission to take breaks. Farmworkers frequently depend on employers for housing and transportation, creating more opportunities for those who seek to take advantage of vulnerable workers. Co-workers are also perpetrators, enabled, in part, by an environment that can seem tolerant of abuses. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, farmworkers noted that certain workers are much more powerless and more likely to be victimized than others, including girls and young women, recent immigrants, single women working alone, and indigenous workers.