U.S. Immigrant Farm Workers Routinely Sexually Abused, Says Human Rights Watch

Patricia M., came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 21-years-old, and got a job harvesting almonds. On her third day, the foreman was dropping off all the workers at the gas station, as he did at the end of every day, but he didn't let her out. He took Patricia to a remote field, where she says he tied her hands with her bandanna to the grip above the truck door, got on top of her, stripped her naked, and raped her.

There was no other job available, so Patricia says she kept working at the same farm, for the same foreman, who kept raping her. She let him, because she was afraid that if she didn't he would hurt her. She had no relatives in the U.S., and was afraid to tell her family in Mexico. When Patricia got pregnant, she sought help from a social service agency. Without them, she never would have filed a police report.

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"I was afraid they would put me in jail," she said. "I was afraid [they'd] send me to Mexico because I was illegal."


Complain And You're Fired

Patricia is one of the 52 farm workers that Human Rights Watch interviewed for a new report released Wednesday. Almost all of them had experience sexual violence or harassment, or knew other workers who had.

One woman who had picked potatoes and onions in New York said her supervisor would touch all the women, and if they resisted, he would threaten to fire them or call immigration.

And that is why women who immigrate to the U.S. for seasonal farm work are so vulnerable, the report explains. Many of these women are unable to refuse or complain about sexual comments and touching, because the perpetrators are usually supervisors, foremen, contractors and company owners -- individuals who can retaliate easily by cutting back hours, denying breaks, or firing any woman who dares to say no.

If a woman is a guest worker, and loses her job, then she also loses her visa. Many of these women have no legal status in the U.S. at all, and so are scared that if they report the abuse they'll be deported, and lose the wages they were so desperate for that they were willing to leave their homes behind.

As the director of legal services at the National Immigration Justice Center, Mony Ruiz-Velasco has worked on hundreds of such cases. "I've never had a case where the abuser did not use his immigration status as a tool," she told the Daily Beast.

Many immigrant women simply don't know where to go. Rural communities don't often have rape crisis centers.


Getting Worse

It's impossible to know exactly how pervasive the problem of assault and rape among immigrant farmworkers really is, the report states. But 1 in 5 American women have been raped, according to a 2010 government survey of 9,000 women, so it could be much higher than that.

And these women almost never find justice through the law. This week, one of California's largest farm labor contractors agreed to pay $150,000 to vineyard workers who said they endured sexually explicit language and propositions from their supervisor, and were fired when they objected. It was the first sexual harassment suit ever filed against the company in its 45 years.

As police in certain states, like Arizona, get more involved in the typically federal job of immigration enforcement, unauthorized women have become more wary of any contact with the police, according to the report.

And while unauthorized workers do have broad workplace protections by law, "the U.S. government's interest in protecting unauthorized workers from abuse conflicts with its interest in deporting them," the reports says.

The Violence Against Women Act could provide some much-needed protections for these women, according to the report, by allowing more victims of sexual violence to get a special visa. But the reworked bill passed Wednesday not only removed that reform, but limited these visas to victims of crimes that are actively under investigation or are being prosecuted. If neither of those things are the case at a particular moment, the woman could be arrested.

If the bill became law, "it would be very, very hard for me to advise clients to apply for protection," said Ruiz-Velasco.

These immigrant victims suffer a similar trauma to all women who have suffered sexual assault and rape. But their vulnerability creates a unique kind of pain. Patricia's rapist, for example, was never prosecuted or sentenced, but deported. She's heard that he's trying to come back to see his child.

The experience will haunt Patricia for a long time. "I don't know what to tell my daughter when she gets older," she told Human Rights Watch.




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Claire Gordon

Staff Writer

Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.

Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at claire.gordon@teamaol.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.

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maycee44

The rapist was also a foreigner. Article stated
"Patricia's rapist, for example, was never prosecuted or sentenced, but deported. She's heard that he's trying to come back to see his child."
So the rapist was not an American!

May 19 2012 at 7:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
maycee44

"The Violence Against Women Act could provide some much-needed protections for these women, according to the report, by allowing more victims of sexual violence to get a special visa. "

Yes, your tax dollars are being used to expedite citizenship for females from other countries who claim to be abused by a male in their country. Not to mention all their living expenses and everything they need paid for by American taxpayers.
Problem is they need no proof of anything. Vawa is full of crazy crap that's costing Americans plenty but only creates more victims- read it and see.
Many illegal females know they can lie to easily get what they want, the same as American women know they can.
Some intentionally use sex for the purpose of manipulating their situation too- it's usually not a one-sided thing. Also, there are just as many males being raped but they are the silent victims. Male rape is joked about in America all the time so the victims feel they are powerless to have any rights or justice. Only female rape is taken seriously.

May 19 2012 at 7:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cincyburb01

Best to just send all the mexicans back home.

May 19 2012 at 2:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ZeBestBlonde

Hmm... well, there are SCUM men in ALL countries, and there are PLENTY of mexican men out there that abuse in many ways their kids, others kids, you name it- look at the cases across the country. The difference is the victim is OLDER here- is she a LEGAL or just here working like all other illegal mexicans that come here to NOT really be American, but disrespect our immigration laws and everything else- get legal, and then I don't know... get smart, KNOW to NOT "let" ANY douche male rape you because you are afraid- esp. when you WERE MORE than CAPABLE after the FIRST time of going to cops- NO EXCUSE! Once- go to the cops, any other fear is STUPID and an excuse. Or go back to mexico. I'm a female but there are men taking advantage of women ALL across this country and other places human trafficking young girls and women into prostitution so take CONTROL of your own self and body- you ONLY get this life- HELLO! Perhaps it's just another drawback of putting yourself into a compromising situation coming to American illegally as many do

May 19 2012 at 2:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
no7mk1

...so are american taxpayers...

May 19 2012 at 1:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
petpetdonna

You want to stop this? Close the borders and don't let anymore illegal aliens into this country.

May 19 2012 at 12:22 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to petpetdonna's comment
moorebill5

its what the Indians should have done from the beginning.

May 24 2012 at 4:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
REBECCA

I have a remedy cut his pinga

May 18 2012 at 11:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BARRY AND KATHY

How many of you posters who constantly piss and moan about all the illegal aliens would pick fruit and vegetables for ten hours or more a day just to exist? How many of you DECIDED to be born in this country?
Most of the worst complainers think they deserve all the perks of being American without admitting just how lucky they really are.

May 18 2012 at 10:58 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to BARRY AND KATHY's comment
wllharrington

If I read the article correctly she was not an illegal immigrat but was here on a work visa, which has been used for years to bring workers in, usually from Mexco, as seasonal workers. These workers go back to their homes when the season for the product is over. According to what I have read, most have homes and family in their country and have no wish to remain here. These owners, foremen, supervisors etc. think as did the old overseers during the time of slavery when anything could be done to the worker who had no redress.

May 18 2012 at 8:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
grneydmuse

I feel so sorry that Patricia had to endure the horrors of being sexually abused, and fear for the loss of her job all the while. I hope that the person who did this to her is found and prosecuted, then thrown in jail for life. NO ONE has the right to rape another person and take away their dignity!

May 18 2012 at 8:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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