Female farmworkers in the United States are defenseless against the sexual abuse to which they fall victim at their places of work, as in the case of a young undocumented Mexican woman who was deported when she reported the fact that a fellow worker had raped her.
“I emigrated in search of a better future, but, upon arriving, I experienced a great disappointment, because the female workers don’t have the same rights and benefits as the men and, if they sexually harass you, neither the boss or the police help you,” the woman, who asked that her identity not be revealed for fear of reprisals, told Efe on Wednesday.
The woman had continued to be the victim of sexual abuse in the workplace since she arrived in 1996 in New York state, where she was employed as a farmworker harvesting different vegetables and fruits, and her case is one of the more than 50 gathered by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report published Wednesday in New York.
The study, entitled “Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment,” discusses the abuses suffered by more than 50 undocumented female farmworkers in the states of California, North Carolina and New York.
During the course of its 95 pages, the report details the rapes, harassment and unwanted touching, exhibitionism and use of obscene language by supervisors, bosses, workmates and other people in positions of power.
In 2006, the young woman was raped by a coworker and although she reported the case to the police and they said they would arrest the man, “they never did so and, on the other hand, they passed my data to immigration and, since I have no papers, they deported me without caring that I had three children, one of them a baby, and I had to leave them in the U.S.,” she said.
“But I decided to return, because I could not leave my children behind, and so I had to cross the border again, in a journey of four days through the desert for which I had to pay $4,000,” she recalled.
Upon her return to the United States, the woman sought work again with her old boss because the person who had raped her had left the company and she thought that “things would change starting then,” although shortly afterwards another male workmate began to verbally harass her and send her messages.
“The boss told her that since it was only words and (the workmate) didn’t touch me, nothing would happen. I went to speak with the wife of this man and she told me that that had occurred to me because I was a flirt, she laughed a lot at me when we spoke, (and said) that ... I was to blame and I felt very bad,” she said.
The HRW report complains that hundreds of thousands of immigrant women and girls who work in U.S. fields are at “high risk” of becoming victims of sexual violence or harassment at their workplaces because the authorities do not protect them.
“Instead of being valued for their contributions, immigrant farmworkers are subject to a dysfunctional immigration system and labor laws that exclude them from basic protections most workers take for granted,” said the author of the report, Grace Meng.
The study says that those responsible for sexual harassment are aware of the power they have over their victims and 50 percent of the labor force working in U.S. fields are undocumented immigrants.
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