In the Field of Panties: Sexual Violence and Immigrant Farmworkers

They call it the field de calzon — the field of panties —because so many rapes happen there.

Last Wednesday, the organization Human Rights Watch released the report Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment. It’s filled with tales that would make Jeremiah, or Amos, or Micah weep: stories of some of the most marginalized, exploited, and impoverished people in the country.

HRW talked to 160 farmworkers, growers, law enforcement officials, attorneys and other experts in agricultural workplace issues in 8 different states, finding that most women working in agriculture have been — or know someone who has been — victimized sexually at work; confirming the findings of a 2010 survey of California Central Valley workers in which 80 percent reported having experienced sexual harassment or abuse on the job.

It’s common enough that some women farm workers see it as “an unavoidable condition of agricultural work.”

In the US generally, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape are underreported, but the groups that make up farmworkers are even less likely to report. For one thing, nearly 70 percent of agricultural workers are Mexican born; Latinas in the US are estimated to report fewer than 7 percent of the incidents of sexual harassment they experience.

“For a woman alone, there is much danger,” said one female farm worker, “A man can catch you in the field where the plants are taller than you.”

Because an estimated 50 percent of farmworkers are unauthorized workers (a number that’s held steady for more than a decade), they are particularly vulnerable, with just 30 percent of them speaking English well. It is estimated that 20 percent of agricultural workers are not fluent either in English or Spanish — because they speak indigenous languages — and are especially at risk of being mistreated.

{From my most recent post at Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog. Read the rest here.}

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