Thursday, September 22, 2016

More agricultural crime, this time in the pot biz

Two recent stories, one a feature and one breaking news, have highlighted the problem of human trafficking, sexual assault, and other ways workers in California's pot industry are abused.  The first is  Shoshana Walter's piece in Reveal, "In Secretive Marijuana Industry, Whispers of Abuse and Trafficking."  Walter writes from the Emerald Triangle of northern California, which generally refers to chunks of Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake and Trinity counties--a region where the pot industry has flourished, even before partial legalization (for medial purposes) in California.  (My students have written about the Emerald Triangle and the pot biz in No. Cal. on this blog here and here, and I wrote about it here.)  Here's a taste of Walter's story, which is nothing short of harrowing:
[T]he ancient forests here have provided cover for the nation’s largest marijuana-growing industry, shielding pot farmers from convention, outsiders and law enforcement. 
But the forests also hide secrets, among them young women with stories of sexual abuse and exploitation. Some have spoken out; a handful have pressed charges. Most have confided only in private. 
Students from the nearest college, Humboldt State University, return from a summer of trimming marijuana buds with tales of being forced to give their boss a blow job to get paid. Other “trimmigrants,” who typically work during the June-to-November harvest, recount offers of higher wages to trim topless.
During one harvest season, two growers began having sex with their teenage trimmer. When they feared she would run away, they locked her inside an oversized toolbox with breathing holes. 
Contact with law enforcement is rare and, female trimmigrants say, rarely satisfying.
As you can see, the story includes a good dose of how rural socio-spatiality conceals crime (among other things) and impedes law enforcement, which was the topic of my scholarly offering here.  Interestingly, in writing that piece, I got a great deal of push back about, well, how wrong I was.  Two arguments were common.  The first was, essentially, that everyone knows rural people are more law abiding than urban people, so why am I talking about rural crime and law enforcement.  The second--more apropos here--was that technological advancements will ultimately overcome rurality's spatial barriers, diminishing any rural-urban difference in this regard.  Reading stories like this one makes me want to say, "told you so"--though let me be clear that the consequences of these failures of law and law enforcement are not just fodder for academic debate.  These failures have devastating consequences for these especially vulnerable victims.

Just as I was fully digesting this feature, the Sacramento Bee and Capital Public Radio covered a story out of Calaveras County yesterday--breaking news about the arrest of two women who had kidnapped and abused four men in their pot operation.   Interesting that the gender tables were turned in this case (though the women reportedly worked with armed male guards to keep the victims captive). Again, the term "human trafficking" is being used in relation to these events.  The Bee's coverage is here, and Capital Public Radio's is here.

Finally, here is another recent story, this one from upstate New York, that illustrates well how rural spatiality can conceal crime and those on the lam, thus disabling the ordering force of law and undermining the rule of law.  I wrote about these events previously here.

And then there is this one out of central Minnesota.  Rural spatiality (and rural law enforcement) may have played a role here, too, just thinking about the ditch the boys were thrown into and the pit where Jacob Wetterling was attacked and initially buried.

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