Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sexual assault of farm workers

NPR ran a two-part series on this phenomenon, yesterday and today.  The first story is "Silenced by Status:  Farm Workers Face Rape, Sexual Abuse," and it features the story of Maricruz Ladino, who was raped by a farm supervisor in 2006.  Against the odds, Ladino courageously filed a civil suit against the grower. That suit ended in a confidential settlement in 2010.  The story quotes Bill Tamayo, an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,  the federal agency tasked with protecting workers from gender-based discrimination.  The EEOC has been using radio ads to reach out to farm workers about sexual harassment.  Tamayo emphasizes just h how much power farm supervisors wield.
"He determines who gets hired, who gets promoted, who gets fired. And if you're a sexual predator, that's the ideal position to be in because you can determine whether her family eats or not," he says. 
* * *
Over the last 15 years, Tamayo estimates his agency has won tens of millions of dollars in back wages and damages for farm worker victims across the country. The companies involved are rarely made public unless a lawsuit is filed. And the agency doesn't have the power to bring a criminal case — that's the job of local prosecutors. In fact, a review of EEOC's federal lawsuits shows none of the perpetrators accused in those cases have been tried in criminal court.
The second story in the series is "Despite Barriers, Farm Worker Breaks Silence about Rape Case," and it too features a Latina farmworker who is also a rape survivor and, like Ladino, had the courage to report her assailant.  The woman featured in this story is Guadalupe Chavez, who eventually pressed criminal charges against the farm supervisor who raped her in 2006.  Yet with no physical evidence--Khokha notes that many of the farmworkers survive rape don't get a medical exam, which is also true among other demographics--the case came down to Chavez's word versus that of her assailant.  A jury acquitted the defendant, believing his assertion that the encounter was consensual.  Khokha writes:
Even so, Chavez says she got some justice because the man she accused of raping her had to face her in court, and she says, now supervisors like him may think twice about how they treat women in the fields.
This story notes the important role played by organizations such as rural legal aid providers and social service agencies such as Westside Family Preservation Services, in Huron, California.

This two-part series was produced in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting and UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting program.

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