Cultivating Fear: Human Rights Watch
I think that it is safe to say that most Americans do not think enough about where their food comes from. We worry way more about whether our food is organic and locally grown, than if it is ethically cultivated, and it seems that even when we consider the human rights at stake when eating our salad, the image in our heads tend to be overwhelmingly masculine. I rarely consider that there are plenty of women working out in the fields too, and what the implications might be of being a female, an immigrant, and potentially undocumented while working in the fields. This paper “Cultivating Fear,” put out by the Human Rights Network helped to open my eyes about sexual harassment and rape against female agricultural workers in the Unites States.
The step to analyzing such a phenomenon is: Who is the most vulnerable, and why? The researchers decided to conduct their study primarily in California, where there is the heaviest concentration of agricultural workers. They found that in general, women receive lower wages and work in more vulnerable positions than their male counterparts. The agricultural industry rarely provides sick leave to its employees, forcing mothers (which many women are) to take days off in order to care for their children, earning even less. According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), female agricultural workers earn an average of $11,250 per year compared to male workers’ yearly income of $16,250.
The Human Rights Network also found that indigenous workers–a very fast-growing population–are even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Many claim an indigenous language as their mother tongue, and struggle in Spanish, much less English. Indigenous people are often discriminated against in their homes in Central America, which translates into their work environment in the U.S., where they constantly interact with fellow Central Americas. In conclusion, being indigenous or a woman within the agricultural work place has significant disadvantages, and makes one more vulnerable to sexual abuse, or rape.
The rest of the report examines the many cases the researchers ran into of women being coerced into sexual favors, threatened with being fired or deported. The report examines in particular why this is such a common phenomenon, which they attribute to the impunity under which the perpetrators operate. Few women report the abuse because of the immense obstacles that exist to seeking justice or protection for someone without documents, who does not speak English and has no knowledge of the American legal system.
However, the report found that the most looming barrier to seeking justice were the inherent threats behind reporting. The men (as it is almost exclusively men) who rape often have the power to take away jobs, or to report people to immigration officials. Sometimes their victims even depend on them for food, transportation, or housing. In other words, everything. On top of that, women frequently have other people depending on them, be it children, or family members, so reporting an incident of rape seems less important than feeding loved ones, or keeping your family all in the same country.
Now, one might also wonder why no one goes to the police in light of this abuse. Theoretically, the police would help to enforce work place laws that would protect undocumented immigrants, however, all too frequently “the increasing involvement of local police in federal immigration enforcement has fueled immigrants’ fear of the police,” (article) meaning that fewer crimes are reported and many of these men go unpunished.
I think the most sobering quote from the whole piece was “sexual violence and sexual harassment experienced by farmworkers is common enough that some farmworker women see these abuses as an unavoidable condition of agricultural work.” As an unavoidable part of living in the U.S., or of feeding oneself, or one’s family. As an unavoidable part of life.
At the end of the report, the authors list some ways they think we could address the issue. Many of them center around providing more legal rights to undocumented workers, or to providing more paths to documentation. For example, they suggest providing temporary work visas for farmworkers, providing them with more rights when it comes to reporting crimes. However, these documents must not be provided through the employer, so that workers do not fear deportation from their own rapists. And lastly, and I think most immediately, we need to stop Secure Communities, the program that gives police abilities similar to ICE agents, and perpetuates fear and distrust of law enforcement among immigrants.