Earlier this month Human Rights Watch released a report entitled Cultivating Fear :The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, describing rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, or vulgar and obscene language by supervisors, employers, and others in positions of power that has become all too commonplace in the lives of women and girls who work in the fields that feed so much of the United States.
Farmworkers described experiences such as the following:
A woman in California reported that a supervisor at a lettuce company raped her and later told her that she “should remember it’s because of him that [she has] this job.”
A woman in New York said that a supervisor, when she picked potatoes and onions, would touch women’s breasts and buttocks. If they tried to resist, he would threaten to call immigration or fire them.
Four women who had worked together packing cauliflower in California said a supervisor would regularly expose himself and make comments like, “[That woman] needs to be fucked!” When they tried to defend one young woman whom he singled out for particular abuse, he fired all of them..
The abusers are well aware of the relative power they have over their victims and so certain groups seem to be particularly vulnerable, Human Rights Watch found. These include girls and young women, recent immigrants, single women, and indigenous women, especially those with limited ability to speak Spanish or English.
What are some solutions? The report says that laws like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), currently being contested in the Senate, would offer some measure of recourse. But what about the sexual violence at the hands of law enforcement agencies – from ICE Agents and border patrol to local police? What should inspire confidence in officials charged with enforcing laws that the federal government has called broken? What will be the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and Secure Communities, a deportation program Human Rights Watch says needs to be repealed, that has shown to place women who report violence against them into deportation? The U visa, a special non-immigrant visa for victims of certain crimes who cooperate in investigations, is supposed to provide some relief and incentive for cooperation with police, but the usefulness of the visa is limited by inconsistent certification of victim cooperation by law enforcement agencies and the unavailability of such visas for most witnesses. Recently it has come to light that in Colorado, women are being turned into ICE after reporting incidents of domestic violence. So why should agricultural workers struggling against sexual violence trust law enforcement?
Adding to the problem are state anti-immigrant laws like SB1070 in Arizona and Alabama’s recently revised HB56, which places undocumented immigrants at risk for deportation just for showing up to court.
This is where it get’s tricky for most people. How can we imagine justice without law enforcement intervention, but when law enforcement is part of the problem how do we have any other choice?