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Sexual assault disproportionately common against immigrant laborers

When unregistered immigrants are sexually assaulted, they are often loath to report their attackers. Many victims depend upon their perpetrators for employment and livelihood. In some cases, the aggressor threatens to report a victim to immigration authorities if he or she does not comply with sexual demands. Workers trying to support their families do not want to be deported, so they stay silent.

Every day in Kern County, California and in other parts of the United States, female workers are attacked. One abusive foreman repeatedly assaulted a young mother of four at their place of work, appearing behind her and fondling her breasts and back without her consent. Eventually, he began to isolate her in a vineyard to pick grapes alone and to approach her there. She told the foreman that she was not interested in his advances, but he indicated that if she said anything to anyone about them, he would report her and get her deported.

The foreman escalated his advances in the vineyard. His victim stayed silent, but the physical, mental and emotional upheaval in her life took its toll. When he plunged his hands down into her underwear to grab her buttocks, she finally reported him. The main contractor and company supervisor ultimately decided it was only her word against the foreman’s, and they claimed they could do nothing. She quit her job and locked herself in the house, afraid to go to work anywhere else for fear of another assault.

According to Human Rights Watch, thousands of girls and women face a high risk of sexual harassment and sexual violence in workplaces where their employers do not protect them. In some workplaces, men have power over undocumented workers. Rape is a common event.

To date, no criminal charges have been filed against any company or foreman for sexual harassment in Kern County, but one of the largest vineyards there has agreed to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation suit and to make changes to company policies. One supervisor in San Benito County has been convicted for sexual abuse. A case is pending in Madera County, and charges have been laid for two counts of rape in Chowchilla.

Sexual harassment is never legal or morally permissible. If it has happened to you, there are support systems in place to help. Contact a knowledgeable harassment lawyer to assist you in standing up for your rights.