What is Sexual Violence?
Defining sexual violence: For purposes of this guidebook, sexual violence is defined as any unwanted sexual act, including but not limited to touching, voyeurism, exhibitionism, sexual assault and rape, perpetrated against a person through force or coercion. Coercion includes, but is not limited to, intimidation, threats of deportation and/or malicious prosecution, physical harm, being refused for hire or being fired from a job.
Sexual comments and some forms of sexual harassment fall within the definition of sexual violence used in this guidebook, but may not rise to the level of criminal acts. Sexual comments are often used to exploit, harass, demean, frighten and injure a victim. Perpetrators often make sexual comments and use sexual harassment as a way of testing (or “grooming”) victims to determine how they might respond to sexual assault or rape. In all cases of sexual violence— those that meet the criminal definition of assault, rape or stalking, and those that do not—there are often civil legal remedies available to victims. Legal providers should be prepared to make appropriate referrals to civil legal attorneys to address the broad scope of sexual violence victims’ needs. In some cases it may be necessary and important to ensure that a civil attorney or a criminal defense attorney is also available to help the victim through the criminal proceedings as a victim-witness advocate or, in the case of a defense attorney, where the victim has been accused of a crime by the perpetrator.
Non-intimate partner vs. intimate partner sexual violence: This guidebook focuses on non-intimate partner sexual violence. By this, we mean violence perpetrated by someone who is not married to, partnered with or involved in a consensual, ongoing sexual relationship with the victim. The perpetrator may still be someone known to the victim, such as an educator, employer, supervisor, co-worker, landlord, roommate or acquaintance, or the perpetrator could be a stranger. Sexual violence against farmworkers can occur at a workplace, labor camp, in an educational setting, housing development or in public generally. The incident itself may be a one time occurrence or the violence may continue over a period of time. Sexual violence in intimate partner relationships, (i.e. domestic violence-related sexual violence) is a distinct issue and is outside the scope of this guidebook.
Sexual violence perpetrators: In general, sexual assault perpetrators deliberately choose vulnerable victims who are perceived to be less likely to report and/or less credible due to their economic status, racial/ethic identity, age, mental illness, intoxication, drug use and/or disability, among other factors. Statistically, 70% to 80% of sexual assault victims know their assailant, while only 22% of victims are assaulted by strangers.3 Perpetrators may use familiarity with victims to gain access to them and to carry out premeditated assaults. Though specific statistics are not available regarding the percentage of farmworker victims who know their assailants, it is likely that the rates would follow—or be higher than—national statistics. Rates may be higher within farmworker communities because farmworkers live, work and travel in close proximity with others, and perpetrators within the community are able to establish rapport with potential victims in order to facilitate an assault.
Farmworker vulnerability to sexual violence: Farmworkers are particularly at risk for sexual harassment, assault and rape as perpetrators factor in farmworkers’ actual or perceived vulnerability, accessibility and lack of credibility when selecting them as victims. As discussed in more depth below, farmworkers are vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault and rape because of, among other things, their lack of familiarity with their legal rights, lack of access to service providers, lack of transportation, the extreme poverty in which they live and lack of formal education and, in some cases, English language skills.
Farmworkers are accessible to perpetrators of sexual violence as they often work in isolated areas, are often dependent on others for transportation and often live in shared housing with many others. Perpetrators who are job recruiters may impose themselves on victims in exchange for work. Supervisors may leverage their control over employees’ job duties and working location to gain access to victims. Finally, farmworkers are often perceived to lack credibility due to their actual or supposed lack of immigration documentation, their status as immigrants and their racial and/or ethnic identity. Perpetrators may prevent victims from seeking help by telling them that no one will believe them if they make a report (i.e. that no one will believe that a rape or sexual assault occurred, or that it wasn’t consensual) because they are undocumented immigrants.
Ways in which sexual violence occurs in farmworker communities: Far too often, farmworkers are forced to endure sexual violence and exploitation in order to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families. Outside the workplace, there are cases of farmworkers who are sexually assaulted by their landlords, roommates, an acquaintance or a stranger. Landlords may exploit the fact that it is difficult for farmworkers to get affordable, temporary housing. Farmworker children fall victim to sexual abuse in shared homes by adult roommates. At work, farmworkers have been forced to endure ongoing rape in exchange for employment, housing or transportation. Singleoccurrence rape also occurs, such as when a victim is sexually assaulted by a co-worker or supervisor while working in a remote area. In addition, in some cases, farmworker victims experience violence that escalates over a period of days, weeks or months—beginning with inappropriate and lewd comments, progressing to unwanted touching and finally resulting in rape and repeated assaults.