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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Made in America, Destroyed in America

<u are in a deserted field, far away from the nearest worker. Except you are not alone. It would be better if you were alone, because then your supervisor wouldn’t be cornering you. You know what’s going to happen next, but you can’t do anything about it.

When he asked you to come with him to this deserted field, you didn’t have a choice. You knew this would happen eventually, ever since he slapped your butt as you plucked the oranges from the trees, telling you that you are his. You are a worker, but you have no rights. You were told that things would be different in America. You were told that injustice wasn’t tolerated here. But you are an immigrant, and your voice is never heard. Not in a deserted field, and not in a court of law.

This is the story of, “the green motel,” where women are expected to exchange sexually favors for the right to work. The scenario above is the experience of countless female migrant workers in America today. It’s a problem that isn’t well known or well documented, so people aren’t aware that it’s even happening. I know that I wasn’t.

I was watching a movie for class when I stumbled upon a Frontline documentary titled, “Rape in the Fields.” This documentary is the product of a yearlong investigation concerning the treatment of female migrant workers, and the reasons behind their silence. These reasons are: they cannot speak the language, they need the job, and they are afraid if they tell the authorities, they will be deported. I thought the reasons would be more hidden.

However, it all comes down to power. These women are trapped between two powerful, uncaring foes. There is the American government, and its lack of concern for the people who are the basis of America’s economy. Then, there are the employers, who use America’s disinterest in the rights of its poorest, more vulnerable people to uphold their tradition of exploitation.

I am sad to say that even when women speak up, very few of their complaints make it to court. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, “in the past 15 years, workers have filed 1,106 sexual harassment complaints with the commission against agricultural-related industries.” Of these cases, even fewer made it to trial. This is made even more unfortunate considering 65% of sexual assault cases against female migrant are not reported.

This is because there are very few activist groups for female migrant workers rights in the U.S. The only federal organization that fights the maltreatment of female migrant workers, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), was established in 2002. This means that countless women had nowhere to turn before 2002.

Even now, women are reluctant to press charges against their abusers. Even when women reach out to lawyers, they can only press punitive damages against the company, not criminal charges against the perpetrator. A lawyer for the EEOC, William R. Tamayo, led the landmark 2002 case against Harris Farms. The case was against Rene Rodriguez, who raped Olivia Tamayo at gunpoint three times. Although EEOC won, the CEO of Harris Farms, John Harris, continues to deny the accusations, and the rapist has peacefully retired.

There is corruption present in America’s legal system and agricultural industry. This corruption instills fear in hardworking women, and this fear leads to inaction. One woman said, “I want to keep my job, but I don’t want to have sex at work anymore.” This statement is very representative of the problem at hand.

These women aren’t asking for much. They simply want to feel safe and respected in the workplace. Just like any other modern woman. They shouldn’t be treated differently by the American legal system because they are immigrants. It doesn’t matter if they came here illegally; rape is rape. If we don’t deal with this issue, we will be ignoring what being American is all about. Being American means looking after your fellow man, no matter where they come from. If not, America will continue to be guilty of destroying the lives of those who made America possible.

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