Sexual Violence Against Farmworkers: A Guidebook for Social Service Providers

The goal of this guidebook is to increase the knowledge and skills of social service providers so that you can better serve farmworkers who have experienced sexual violence. It provides helpful explanations about the life and work of farmworkers as well as unique issues that may impact the services you provide. Each section presents a distinct topic, concluding with questions designed to engage you in better assisting farmworker victims of sexual violence in your community.

Sexual violence within the farmworker community is a pervasive problem. Though farmworker men and children experience sexual violence, women are particularly vulnerable. Ninety percent of female farmworkers in the United States report that workplace sexual violence is a “major problem.”1 The San Francisco District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that “hundreds, if not thousands, of [farmworker] women had to have sex with supervisors to get or keep jobs and/or put up with a constant barrage of grabbing and touching and propositions for sex by supervisors.”2

Farmworker victims of sexual violence often suffer in silence. They may have profound fears of losing their jobs, adverse action by law enforcement including immigration officials, and other forms of retaliation against them or their families. Victims may not know their legal rights. They may have no one to reach out to in an unfamiliar community, isolated by language, distance, culture and lack of transportation. They may experience deep shame if the community and family members learn about the sexual violence. Perpetrators of sexual violence, including employers, supervisors, co-workers and housing providers frequently use these fears and conditions to exert power and control over their victims.

Given this complicated position, the brave victims who come forward to report sexual violence may need help with a range of services including civil, criminal and immigration legal services. Their civil legal needs may encompass issues related to their physical and mental health care, physical and mental disabilities, privacy, housing, education, employment, and financial stability, including public benefits.

For the purposes of this guidebook, social service providers are defined as those professionals and organizations, both government and nongovernmental, who offer a broad range of services including health care, mental health care, case management, crisis intervention, victim advocacy, housing, food, public benefits, education and job skills training.

Few farmworkers report non-intimate partner sexual violence. This is, in part, because of the barriers farmworkers must overcome to seek help. It is also, however, due to the availability of few advocates, lawyers, social service providers, law enforcement, and medical and mental healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about both non-intimate partner sexual violence and farmworker communities. We welcome you to a growing cadre of professionals who are gaining experience in this underserved area of sexual violence response work. We are interested in learning more from you about your successes in creating connections with farmworkers, creating partnerships in your communities and creating new solutions to non-intimate partner sexual violence response and prevention.