Female Farmworkers at Risk for Sex Abuse

According to a report recently released by Human Rights Watch, female farmworkers, particularly undocumented immigrants, face frequent sexual abuse, running the gamut from sexual harassment to sexual assault, while on the job.

The Human Rights Watch report comes at a tense moment in American agricultural history. Last summer and fall, several agricultural states, Georgia and Alabama most prominently, passed tough new immigration laws designed to prevent undocumented workers from obtaining employment. Farmers and farm advocacy groups, in an effort to reverse the nationwide trend against immigrant labor, have countered by pressuring Congress to reform guest worker laws that would allow guarantee an adequate supply of farm labor while limiting illegal immigration.

The farmworkers report reveals some sobering details about the lives of immigrant farmworkers. According to Human Rights Watch, about 650,000 of the 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers are women. Among these women, sexual assault is disturbingly common. According to the report, “Our research confirms what farmworker advocates across the country believe: 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.”

Particularly problematic is the imbalance of power many of these farmworkers face. Immigrant laborers, particularly undocumented workers, are often intimidated and pressured not to report abuse to the police, with many citing fear of deportation as a major motivator of their silence. The report calls on Congress to pass laws better protecting immigrant women and calls on the Department of Homeland Security to reverse rules encouraging local police to report immigration violations to federal authorities.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer