California: Immigrant workers common victims of sexual harassment

Immigrant farm workers have a higher risk of being victims of sexual violence than other workers in the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of these workers have recently experienced sexual harassment due to employers' failure to protect them, according to a 95-page report from the Human Rights Watch. This is especially relevant to California, since the state is one of the major destinations for immigrants traveling from other countries to find employment.

The report details incidences of rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, and obscene language from management personnel towards immigrant farm workers. Although most immigrant farm workers reported that they had been victims of or knew about such abuses, they did not report these abuses because they feared the potential consequences, such as termination from employment or deportation. Those who did report abuses to the authorities usually required assistance from attorneys in order to protect their rights.

The report was based on interviews with over 160 farm workers and their stories of harassment. One incident in the report described the story of a woman in California that was raped by a supervisor. Later, the supervisor told her to remember that she should be grateful to him since he is the reason she is employed. Four other women in a cauliflower packing company claimed their supervisor would regularly expose himself. All four of the women were fired when they tried to defend a specific young woman whom he targeted for harassment.

Although most immigrant farm workers remain vulnerable to harassment, there are legal protections provided to them. The U-Visa grants survivors of sexual abuse and other serious crimes with temporary legal status as long as they cooperate with authorities in the investigation of the claimed conduct. This makes it easier for unauthorized immigrants to report sexual harassment to police, something especially critical in California where there are a significant number of documented and undocumented immigrant workers.

Source: Human Rights Watch, "Human Rights Watch: US: Sexual Violence, Harassment of Immigrant Farmworkers," May 16, 2012

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