A new 2-part report from NPR details the sexual assault endured by agricultural workers, and the inability of those workers to speak out against their attackers due to their employment status. Victims of rape unable to report the crimes against them out of fear of being unable to find another job. Because the jobs are relatively low-paying and typically dominated by a single hiring official, this makes things difficult for those that are unlawfully abused.
The story profiles California’s Maricruz Ladino, who reports that she was assaulted and raped by a supervisor that repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments towards her. After the incident, Ladino realized her options were limited.
“I saw my choices: I lose my job, I can’t feed my family,” Ladino said.
After seven months, Ladino finally made the decision to make a formal complaint, and she got what she somewhat expected — she was fired. Ladino worked in on a farm in the agriculture industry, although the name of her employer has not been released due to legal reasons.
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With the support of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ladino is fighting against the discrimination against her. Attorney Bill Tamayo claimed that these instances are difficult to fight, as farm supervisors have significant control over their employees.
“[A farm supervisor] 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,” Tamayo told NPR.
Despite the assault against Ladino occurring recently, sexual harassment has been occurring in the agricultural workplace for a lengthy amount of time. A 1993 study published by The University of California, Berkeley claimed that “the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) grew from 1,457 in 1990 to 2,239 in 1992,” claiming that significant reforms needed to take place in order to improve the industry’s approach to sexual assault.
In California, legislation was introduced that requires owners of farms with 50 or more employees to attend “two hours of sexual harassment training every two years,” according to NPR.
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Despite the persistence of the problem, the director of farm safety advocacy group AgSafe Amy Wolf believes that things are improving.
"Unfortunately, there is still very much a good ol' boy attitude, but I definitely see improvements. I see more farmers today asking the question, where I think 15 or 20 years ago that wasn't taking place,” Wolfe said.