The best resource for anyone wanting to reach out to or work with farmworkers is an organization  that provides services to farmworkers, such as a farmworker unit of a legal service organization,  a migrant education program, a migrant health agency, a farmworker union or other non-profit  organization dedicated to serving farmworkers. Even if there is no farmworker organization in your immediate area, there should be one in your state that is knowledgeable about your area and potentially has contacts that would be helpful to you. National farmworker organizations can also provide you with basic information about the farmworker community.

Partnering with a farmworker organization can help you:

1. Learn about the agricultural industry and the farmworkers who support it;

2. Improve communication with farmworker victims;

3. Make contacts and gather information that will likely assist your investigations and prosecutions;

4. Educate organizations, individuals and the farmworker community at large about your willingness to help victims of sexual violence.

Find individuals and information to help your investigation. Farmworker organizations can help you learn about the life and work of farmworkers as well as provide information about the agricultural industry, all of which will be helpful in tracking down information and people in your investigations. In particular, you may want to focus on the following areas:

  • Housing: Familiarize yourself with where farmworkers live. Farmworkers may live in apartment complexes, trailer parks, labor camps, motels or private homes. Migrant workers and guestworkers generally live in farm labor camps. Some farmworkers are homeless and sometimes live out in the fields where they work.
  • Work: Know whether there are migrant farmworkers, seasonal farmworkers and/or guestworkers in your jurisdiction and to where they migrate. This may help you know how long a victim or witness may be in the area and if they might migrate next. It may be helpful to know what agricultural work is performed in your jurisdiction, when the season begins and ends, and when farmworkers’ days begin and end. Additionally, be sure to learn about the local farm labor contractors and growers. Find out how many of the contractors are licensed, how they recruit workers, whether they provide housing to the workers, how many crews they employ, and where most of their work is performed.

Inform the community that you are available to help. Working with a farmworker organization,  you can learn where farmworkers congregate, shop, worship, attend school and work, which may provide you the opportunity to inform the community that you are available to help. As you strategize ways in which to reach farmworkers, consider the following:

  • Provide written materials in farmworkers’ languages. Many farmworkers do not speak or read English well or at all. Learn what languages the farmworkers in your area read and make your written materials available in those languages. Additionally, use a professional  translator who can accurately convey phrasing, idioms and culturally relevant language rather than simply providing a verbatim translation.
  • Provide information in oral and culturally appropriate formats. Farmworkers may or  may not be literate in their native language. Some languages may only be oral and not written languages, such as Triqui from Oaxaca, Mexico. To accommodate all farmworkers, provide information in oral formats. For example, record CDs with the information contained in your brochures or other written materials you typically provide to victims. You may also consider producing short videos. Additionally, fotonovelas that use photographs of real people acting out skits or comic book versions of materials are another format to adopt. Creating materials will take time and require input from farmworkers and advocates but the result could increase the number of farmworkers who report sexual assault to law enforcement.
  • Radio/Television. Local farmworker organizations can help you make contact with local radio and television networks that farmworkers use. Air public service announcements on radio and television with information about where to go or how to call law enforcement for help. Given the diversity in languages spoken by farmworkers, it is important to look for media in a wide range of languages in order to reach non-English speaking farmworkers.

Learn how to best communicate with farmworkers. Farmworkers are extremely marginalized and are often exploited. Rightfully so, they may distrust someone outside of the farmworker community, law enforcement in particular. The knowledge you obtain about the community may be helpful when you interact with victims and witnesses and can ask appropriate questions about their lives and work. Another way to better communicate with farmworkers is to learn the work terminology—for the crops grown, tools used, seasons and jobs—which can vary depending on the agriculture grown in your area. Try to avoid terms that farmworker community members will not understand and, instead, use colloquial and slang terms. For instance, the Spanish translation of fields is campo but farmworkers tend to use the “Spanglish” word fil.

Exercise

  • With which farmworker organizations could I partner in order to provide improved services to farmworker victims of sexual assault?
  • What other resources are available to me to learn about farmworkers in my area?
  • What opportunities exist in my community for cross-training between law enforcement, farmworker organizations and rape crisis centers?
  • Is there anyone within my department/ agency who has handled sexual assault cases involving farmworkers from whom I could get tips?
  • What more can my department/agency do to reach out to farmworkers?
  • What more can my department/agency do to increase the number of reported cases?
  • What internal training is necessary to better understand farmworker victims of sexual assault?