This past November, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas—an organization of former and current female farmworkers in the United States—published a letter directed to the women of Hollywood in support of the “Me Too” movement. The movement, which took off in October on social media in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, was embraced globally by victims of sexual assault, and millions of individuals took to Twitter and Facebook to share their stories with the hashtag “Me Too.”
On behalf of the 700,000 female farmworkers working in the U.S. agricultural industry, the letter writers stood in solidarity with the women of Hollywood, noting that, while women of these two industries seemed worlds apart in terms of income and the nature of their work, they were similarly plagued by issues of sexual assault and harassment. Like actresses and models, female farmworkers operate within a male-dominated industry with a heavy imbalance in power dynamics. Women only make up 20-25% of the farmworker population and very rarely hold a position of authority. About 92% of supervisory roles were held by men in one 1998 study (Dubois, Knapp, Farley, & Kustis, 1998).
The power imbalance between men and women in both industries makes it difficult for women to decline or fight back against sexual advances when they occur. A perpetrator who is in a position of authority could ruin the woman’s livelihood by firing her, reducing her income or work hours, or harming her physically or emotionally. Female farmworkers have the added threat of being reported to deportation officials and being separated from her family if she is working illegally. For these reasons, very few farmworkers who are victims of sexual assault actually report the incident. A 2010 study of California farmworkers found 80% of the 150 women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment at work and 24% of those had also experienced sexual coercion (Waugh, 2010). From this study, it is unclear how many women reported to authorities, but data from the Sexual Assault against Latinas (SALAS) study shows approximately 15% of 91 undocumented Latinas (not limited to farmworkers) reported incidents in their lifetime (Zadnik, Sabina, & Cuevas, 2014).
Like the women of Hollywood, female farmworkers run up against a vast number of barriers if they choose to report sexual assault. While actresses are often coerced into silence by money or threats against their careers, farmworkers are typically so isolated from society—especially if they are undocumented—that even figuring out how to report an incident in the first place can be a massive struggle. Language barriers, lack of knowledge about their legal rights, lack of legal resources, and finances make the process particularly challenging. The stark reality of the situation is that, unlike in Hollywood where women have demonstrated over recent months that they can speak out against violence and have options to work with other producers, there are women across the world in positions that push them to maintain their silence, female farmworkers included. The “Me Too” movement might raise flags in some high-profile industries, but we shouldn’t forget the countless women who live in the shadows.
To support Alianza Nacional de Campesinos, to learn more about their projects and partner organizations, or to read their “Me Too” letter, visit https://www.alianzanacionaldecampesinas.org/
For further reading, check out these articles:
Dubois, C., Knapp, D., Farley, R., & Kustis, G. (1998). An empirical examination of same- and other-gender sexual harassment in the workplace. Sex Roles, 39, 731-746.
Waugh, I. (2010). Examining the Sexual Harassment Experiences of Mexican Immigrant Farmworking Women. Violence Against Women, 16 (3), 237-261. Retrieved from: https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1177/1077801209360857
Zadnik, E., Sabrina, C., & Cuevas, C. (2014). Violence Against Latinas: The Effects of Undocumented Status on Rates of Victimization and Help-Seeking. Journal of Interpersonal Violence , 31 (6), 1141-1153. Retrieved from: https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1177/0886260514564062