The subject of sexual harassment in the fields is one that I’ve broached in an earlier blog post. Unfortunately, it bears repeating -especially as we enter the new year still on the crest of 2017’s “#MeToo” movement against sexual harassment in the workplace.
The #MeToo movement began in 2006 when civil rights activist Tarana Burke wanted to raise awareness about the societal acceptance of sexual abuse and assault. Since then it has resonated with women from all walks of life, supporting them coming forward and sharing their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Recently, the spotlight has fallen on Hollywood and the gender imbalance in that industry, calling out the misuse of powerful men’s influence over women’s careers. Unfortunately, for the many women toiling in America’s fields sexual harassment is nothing new. Unlike within the high-profile #MeToo movement, conversation around the subject has yet to prevail, and the perpetrators are rarely forced to face up to their mistakes. Thus continues the cycle of silence and fear among those affected. Sexual abuse is an unspoken reality that farmworker women have dealt with for decades: in some cases even as young girls before understanding what it means to be a woman.
Whether you see it as a movement or a moment, #MeToo has at least shed light on a subject that often goes ignored. Farm worker women wrote an open letter of solidarity with the women who have come forward. Now the question is: where do we, as a society, go from here? This is not a matter of protecting women, but a question of respect for one’s self, the opposite sex, and the workplace – even if that workplace is the open field.
There are a wide variety of trainings addressing sexual harassment and how to behave in the workplace, the best of which focus on giving appropriate attention to all genders and occupational tiers involved. For agricultural worker advocates there are a number of resources that address sexual harassment in the fields, but they are focused on the potential victim taking action. In a positive step, California has recently passed a new law requiring farm labor contractors to provide sexual harassment training to all supervisorial and non-supervisorial employees, but much more still needs to be done. Silence and acceptance play a huge role in the problem, and could perhaps be addressed with training for bystanders or witnesses of sexual harassment in the workplace. We are all affected, and we should all be held accountable.
A cultural shift is taking place in the political realm, in Hollywood, and in the sports arena, but the question remains: how do we reach vulnerable and isolated farmworker communities? Responsibility is not the burden of the victim alone.
We started with speaking up: #MeToo.
Now we move to action: #TimesUp.
Check out these great multimedia resources on sexual harassment in agriculture:
Victoria Breckwich Vásquez Testimony| WA State House of Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, 16 November 17
Where is the #METOO for sexual harassment against immigrant workers? | Seattle Times, 13 November 17
Preventing Sexual Harassment in Agriculture Facebook Page Launches (3/8/16)
Working in Fear, Sexual Violence Against Women Farmworkers in the United States: A Literature Review | OXFAM America, December 14
Three Plans to Stop Rape in the Fields | PBS – FRONTLINE Update, 5 June 14
Effort to Stymie Sex Abuse of Female Farmworkers | UW Health Sciences Newsbeat, 29 May 14
“Rape in the Fields,” a documentary that reveals the workplace sexual harassment in agriculture that many women farmworkers endure