Farm labor is hard enough on its own. It is even harder for female field hands who endure an environment of sexual harassment created by their co-workers and superiors, sometimes leading to rape.
The situation that these agriculture workers go through is very serious, especially because of the frequency of the cases. Several studies performed nationwide show that 80 to 90 percent of the women who were interviewed have suffered from verbal abuse, improper touching and humiliation. The problem is critical because these women have extremely limited resources.
On the one hand, the fear of deportation – as in many other instances with immigrants – makes the victims refrain from reporting the problem to the authorities. On the other, complaints issued for crimes against women in the fields are often dismissed as trivial.
It is estimated that one million women work in U.S. fields. Three quarters of them are undocumented young women who are by themselves, or single mothers. This places them in a vulnerable position in the midst of the rough, isolated and sexist environment of field work. Being a woman and undocumented plays against these workers when they seek justice.
This is an unacceptable situation. Labor and legal authorities must act firmly to attend the complaints. If a crime is found to have been committed, the perpetrator must be punished as well as the company that employs him if it continuously ignores the complaints of its female employees.
Farmworkers are an important resource to an economy based on cheap agricultural produce. Their value grows when we realize that they perform jobs that U.S. citizens do not want to do, whether because of the low wages or the arduous work.
Women are part of that labor force. They have a right to work free from harassment and the threat of retribution for rejecting the advances of a supervisor, or for reporting him to the authorities. They have a right to feed their family without undergoing humiliation and vexation.