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Female farmworkers defenceless against sexual harassment in US


Alice Rodgers
WVoN co-editor

Female farmworkers in the United States experience frequent sexual assault and violence, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

Entitled “Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Immigrant Farmworkers in the US to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment”, it describes incidences of rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, or vulgar and obscene language by employers.

Most of the women interviewed said they had not reported the workplace abuse, for fear of being fired or, because of their legal status, deported.

Of the three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers who work in the US, approximately 630,000 are female, and about 60 percent are illegal immigrants.

“I emigrated in search of a better future, but, upon arrival, I experienced great disappointment” said one female farmworker.

“Female workers don’t have the same rights and benefits as men and, if they sexually harass you, neither the boss nor the police help you”.

Victims of abuse face many hurdles in obtaining justice, such as lengthy and difficult legal processes.

Programmes like Secure Communities and tough, new immigration laws have fuelled fears of the police amongst many immigrant communities.

And when women do find the courage to report abuse, their complaints are often not taken seriously by law enforcement agencies.

The report by the international rights group calls on the Department of Homeland security to repeal rules that encourage local police to report federal immigration violations.

It also calls on Congress to pass laws that protect immigrant female workers, as well as on police officers and sheriffs to take all complaints of sexual assault seriously.

Grace Meng, the author of the report, said “Every day that it fails to enact immigration reform, Congress puts more farmworker women at risk for sexual abuse”.

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