Featured Articles: NWRPCA Programs

Addressing Sexual Assault against Farmworkers

Monday, June 22, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Migrant workers harvest lettuce

Creative Commons, Aug. 27, 2013. USDA photo by Bob Nichols

[editor's note: This month we introduce a three-part series to address sexual assault, harassment and human trafficking in the agricultural industry. Our goal is to provide an overview of the issues, current projects and efforts happening in Region X, and highlight resources and tools that community health centers (CHCs) can use to tackle the issues.]



by Jessica Burkard, Community Health Improvement Project Manager


Sexual harassment in agriculture is an alarming problem that threatens the health, safety and security of farmworkers. Oxfam America recently published a literature review titled, “Working in Fear: Sexual Violence against Women Farmworkers in the United States” that explores this issue in great detail.


During NWRPCA’s 2015 Western Forum for Migrant and Community Health, researchers with the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (PNASH) shared results from their recent University of Washington community-engaged study of 20 Mexican-born women with lengthy tenures in agricultural work. Most women reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment or knew someone who had been harassed.


As highlighted in the PBS documentary, “Rape in the Fields,” and in the Human Rights Watch report, “Cultivating Fear,” female farmworkers are more vulnerable to sexual assault than women who work in other occupations. In agricultural jobs, employees often work alone, focused on piecework quotas. Farm managers—reportedly the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in the fields—are rarely subject to oversight. The vast majority of victims are non-English-speaking immigrants, more than half are undocumented, and most are nonunionized. “Many fear that if they report their bosses for sexual harassment, they will be deported or—at the very least—lose their jobs,” says William Tamayo, Regional Attorney for the US Equal Opportunity Commission.


CHCs are a vital resource for the communities they serve, including migrant and seasonal agricultural workers. As frontline primary care providers for medically underserved communities such as agricultural workers, CHCs may be more likely to encounter victims of sexual violence. Therefore it is critical that CHCs understand the complex issues related to sexual violence experienced by agricultural workers and learn how to create awareness about the issue, as well as intervene and provide resources to those who are victimized.


PNASH’s study leveraged existing collaborations with community organizations in the Yakima Valley to launch a prevention campaign providing information (in both Spanish and English) for agricultural workers at all levels in the industry (supervisors, farmworkers, and growers). Dr. Victoria Breckwich Vásquez, Director of Community Engagement and Education at PNASH and Assistant Professor at UW Bothell, and her colleague Paula Zambrano, a Yakima farmworker, presented the following resources for awareness and intervention:

Organizations interested in distributing Prevention Wallet Cards for outreach events or for clients are welcome to contact pnash@uw.edu to request them. The cards are free, but PNASH will request information about card distribution (to whom, where).


Breckwich Vásquez and Zambrano also presented on the release of DVDs for Waiting Rooms (5-minutes, looped) to increase community awareness. Organizations interested in using the DVDs for their waiting rooms are welcome to contact etorres@kdna.org to request them. These are free and information about distribution will also be requested.


To learn more about this project, visit PNASH’s Sexual Harassment Prevention webpage or email vbreck@uw.edu.


For questions regarding the article series, please contact Jessica Burkard at jburkard@nwrpca.org.

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