Sunday, April 10, 2016

Latinas do not perpetuate rape culture: a brief look at female farmworkers in the U.S.

Last week, on an episode of MSNBC’s Hardball, conservative political commentator Ann Coulter was asked her opinion of Donald Trump’s latest statements on abortion. Instead Coulter switched the topic and stated that she would be “more upset that women are going to need a lot more abortions if we don’t close our border with Mexico and bring in all of Latin American rape culture.” 

Unfortunately, Ann Coulter’s statements did not end there. Via Twitter, she continued to support her original statement by pointing to several statistics. In one tweet she said the “Hispanic culture is more accepting of statutory rape.” Subsequent tweets stated that “Hispanic women in the U.S.” are more likely “to be victims of childhood sex abuse in comparison to the national average, but less likely to report rape" than white women. Overall, Ann Coulter’s tweets suggested that Latina women perpetuate Latin American rape culture.

As a Latina, not only do I find Coulter’s statements offensive, but I also find them to be harmful to Latina women. There is no such thing as Latin American rape culture. Rape is a worldwide problem that isn’t exclusive to Latinos or Latin America. In fact, Ann Coulter’s declaration about Latina women and rape minimizes the sexual violence that Latina women experience in the U.S.

When I first read about Coulter’s comments, I immediately thought about immigrant female farm workers because they frequently experience sexual violence or sexual harassment in the fields. According to the National Agricultural Workers Survey, most farmworkers are Latinos, and about 24 percent of the farmworkers are female. A 2012 Human Rights Watch report titled Cultivating Fear, found that approximately 80 percent of female farmworkers regularly experience sexual violence or sexual harassment in the fields. 

Sexual violence in the fields is so pervasive that one female worker told investigators that her workplace was called the “field de calzón,” or “fields of panties” because so many women had been raped there.

Despite the prevalence of the sexual abuse that female farmworkers face working in the fields, many of these incidents are not reported.  However, they do NOT go unreported for the reasons that Ann Coulter has recently indicated. For these women, most of their aggressors are their supervisors, employers or other men in positions of authority. As a consequence, immigrant farmworkers don’t report the abuses they see or experience because they are understandably afraid. Since most immigrant farmworkers are undocumented, some farmworkers are fearful that their employers or the police will deport them if they complain. 

Unfortunately, their thinking is not wrong when various cases exist where employers retaliate against a complaining employee by terminating them. A USA Today article noted that civil court documents indicated that in nearly every case of workers that submitted complaints to company management, 85 percent of these workers faced retaliation such as "being demoted, fired, or further harassed."

In other cases, immigrant farmworkers do not report the sexual abuse that occurs on the fields because they don’t know they have rights.  In one case, an Iowa immigrant farmworker told her attorney, “We thought that it was normal in the United States that in order to keep your job, you had to have sex.”

Fortunately for the immigrant farmworkers, the violence they have endured in the fields has been gaining the public’s attention and resulted in new laws that aim to protect farmworkers against sexual abuses in the fields. In response to PBS’s Rape in the Fields, a documentary about the sexual violence and sexual harassment that immigrant farmworkers endure in the nation’s agricultural lands, California Governor Brown in 2014 signed a new law aimed to help protect female farmworkers from further sexual harassment. The new law requires that all employers, regardless of size, give their supervisors two hours of sexual harassment training every two years. Before the new law, only employers with more than 50 employees were required to give such training. In addition, the new law requires labor contractors and employees to go through sexual harassment training.   

While immigrant farmworkers have experienced some successes in the last 3 years, many throughout the U.S. still remain vulnerable to sexual violence. I recognize that people like Ann Coulter have the right to express their opinions, but her rhetoric about Latina women perpetuating Latin American rape culture misstates the facts and offers no solutions. Instead of spreading anti-immigrant fear throughout our nation, we should all be working towards solutions that help end violence against all women here and in the rest of the world.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I wonder if, in addition to requiring sexual harassment training for supervisors, California shouldn't also make an attempt to ensure that workers know their rights. While I completely support sexual harassment training for supervisors, the power imbalance hasn't changed at all if workers - particularly migrant and undocumented workers - still don't realize their rights are being violated. It's so shocking to read that workers assumed that in the US, "to keep your job you have to have sex." And yet it makes complete sense that if women are isolated in migrant camps, or don't speak English, on top of fearing deportation, that they would be unaware of their legal rights. Approaching this problem, California must have a plan that gives some power to the workers themselves.