Study: Farm Workers Especially Vulnerable to Sexual Harassment

A recent report by Human Rights Watch found that female farm workers in California and throughout the farming areas of the United States are often sexually harassed and assaulted. Shockingly the report also found that sexual harassment and violence experienced by farm workers is so common that some female farm workers see it as a part of the job.

The report found that female illegal aliens were particularly vulnerable. Illegal aliens who are women, make up about 60 percent of the total number of female agricultural workers. The report's author, Grace Meng told the Associated Press, "It's easiest for abusers to get away with sexual harassment where there's an imbalance of power, and the imbalance of power is particularly stark on farms."

According to the report, female farm workers commonly endured sexually-charged language, unwanted touching, stalking and even rape. Illegal aliens were less likely to report the incidents, fearing that they would lose their job or be deported because of their immigration status.

A counselor in California's agricultural region said that the problem of sexual abuse and harassment among illegal immigrants exists in every business where immigrants are commonly used for labor, but is more focused on farms, as they are the biggest employers of immigrants.

Sexual Harassment Laws in California

All employees in California, undocumented or not, are protected from harassment based on gender, pregnancy and childbirth by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). FEHA defines sexual harassment as visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or unwanted sexual advances. Some common examples of sexual harassment prohibited by FEHA are:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Offering promotions or benefits in exchange for sexual favors
  • Leering or sexually suggestive looks
  • Making sexual comments or inappropriate slurs or jokes
  • Threatened or actual reprisal in response to refusing sexual advances
  • Making sexual gestures or displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures or other media
  • Unwanted touching

Under FEHA, coworkers or supervisors who engage in sexual harassment can be held personally liable. In addition, employers can be liable in certain circumstances. If you think you are a victim of sexual harassment, regardless of your immigration status, contact an experienced attorney. An attorney can explain your rights and work to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.