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Weekend Read: When you don't know the laws or the language, it's a lot harder to say #MeToo

Her first week on the job, Marlyn Perez worked the same hours as everyone else — burned by pesticides, given no breaks or access to the bathroom, with no shelter from the sun or the weather — but she did not get the same pay. 

When she asked the crew leader at C&C Agricultural Farms in Clewiston, Florida, about it, she remembers that he told her, “This is what I’m paying you. There’s no way to negotiate it differently.”

That’s not what he said when she asked again. This time, Perez’s crew leader told her he would pay her more if she had sex with him.

She refused. The situation escalated and, a lawsuit alleges, he grabbed her from behind, fondled her breasts, and then, when she continued to reject his advances, threatened to get her deported.

“Truly I did feel very intimidated and very fearful,” Perez told Ariel Ramchandani for The Atlantic. “I just arrived and I didn’t know anything about the laws or who to call or what I could say or how to say it.”

Thousands of women working on isolated farms across America know exactly what she’s talking about.

“The history of agriculture in the U.S. [has] always been one of sexual violence,” Mónica Ramírez told Ramchandani. “On farms, conditions are ripe for it.”

Ramirez is the founder and president of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, which responded to the revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior by releasing a letter on behalf of the approximately 700,000 female farmworkers in the U.S. who also know sexual violence “far too well.”

Ramirez, who previously worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been calling attention for years to the sexual violence that farmworker women experience. In 2010, as the director of our Immigrant Women’s Legal Initiative, she spearheaded a partnership to release a guidebook for criminal justice professionals providing legal assistance to farmworker survivors of non-intimate partner violence.

It was published exactly eight years ago today. Sadly, every word rings as true in 2018 as it did in 2010. As we wrote then:

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.

We’re committed to seeking justice for vulnerable communities throughout the Deep South — and in the era of #MeToo, it’s more important than ever to shine the spotlight on the workers who are the most likely to be targeted, who are the least empowered to report abuses, and who stand to lose the most from sexual violence in the workplace.

Today may be the last day of Farmworker Awareness Week, but it’s clear that this is not a moment. Eight years in, it’s a movement.  

The Editors.

P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable this week:

SPLC’s Weekend Read is a weekly summary of the most important news reporting and commentary from around the country on civil rights, economic and racial inequality, and hate and extremism. Sign up to receive the Weekend Read every Saturday morning.

Photo by Todd Bigelow