The vast majority of women harassed and assaulted in the workplace do not have famous bosses, social media platforms, celebrity, money, or power — like those in the entertainment industry. Hundreds of thousands of them are agricultural workers, who grow, pick, and pack food across America.
On Saturday an organization of farmworker women shared an open letter of solidarity with workers across industries who have been harassed and assaulted, in advance of a march in Los Angeles.
"For the past several weeks we have watched and listened with sadness as we have learned of the actors, models and other individuals who have come forward to speak out about the gender based violence they’ve experienced," the farmworkers wrote.
"We wish that we could say we’re shocked to learn that this is such a pervasive problem in your industry. Sadly... it’s a reality we know far too well."
The devastatingly high rates of sexual assault in agriculture have been well documented, but few mechanisms have been implemented to end the violence. (Though Greg Asbed, an organizer who helped develop one successful model, received a MacArthur genius grant for his work last month.)
"Countless farmworker women across our country suffer in silence," the workers wrote, in part because of their lack of clout in the public consciousness.
"We do not work under bright stage lights or on the big screen," they wrote. "We work in the shadows of society in isolated fields and packinghouses, that are out of sight and out of mind for most people in this country."
"Your job feeds souls, fills hearts and spreads joy... Our job nourishes the nation with the fruits, vegetables and other crops that we plant, pick and pack."
Despite the different work environments, the workers said they "share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist and otherwise threaten our economic, physical and emotional security."
Beyond agriculture, pink-collar workforces in home healthcare and housekeeping also experience harassment and assault at horrifying rates.
Like farmworkers, domestic workers typically work in isolation — just in private homes instead of remote fields. Janitors and cleaning staff, disproportionately women, typically work in an empty buildings, after daytime hours. These workers’ harassers and assaulters are often their direct or only employers.
"Like you, there are few positions available to us, and reporting any kind of harm or injustice committed against us doesn’t seem like a viable option," the farmworkers wrote. "Complaining about anything — even sexual harassment — seems unthinkable because too much is at risk, including the ability to feed our families and preserve our reputations."
"In these moments of despair, and as you cope with scrutiny and criticism because you have bravely chosen to speak out against the harrowing acts that were committed against you, please know that you’re not alone," they wrote. "We believe and stand with you."
You can read the full letter here.
Cora Lewis is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Lewis reports on labor.
Contact Cora Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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