An In-Depth Look at Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Everyone holds the basic right to be protected in a safe and welcoming work environment. Unfortunately, sexual harassment against women in the work place is kept under wraps all too frequently. Female farmworkers have had to endure unwelcome grabbing or touching, or verbal advances by their supervisors. Victims may experience deep fears of losing their job, law enforcement, and retaliation against the worker or the worker’s family. Victims may also not be aware of their legal rights or that help from aid groups is available. By definition, Sexual harassment is any unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual nature that affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment. This may include:

  • Comments of a sexual nature
  • Lustful and inappropriate stares
  • Unwanted touching
  • Taunting and hostility
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical violence
  • Assault and rape

An investigation conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting on the prevalence of sexual harassment against female workers discovered that hundreds, if not thousands, of women who work in agriculture have been forced into sex in order to keep their jobs.

As a result of the investigation, California has implemented a new law (SB 1087) that requires sexual harassment training for labor contractors, supervisors and all farm employees. Before the passage of the bill, only agricultural employers with more than 50 employees were required to give their supervisors two hours of sexual harassment training every other year. Now, all employers regardless of size must do so.

Sexual harassment is a traumatic experience that could even cause a victim to feel guilt. Above all, it is it is important to realize that it is never the victim’s fault. Sexual behaviors without consent are unjust and illegal, but there are ways to resist abuse.

Effective Strategies:

  • Say NO to the harasser! Be direct. “Stop (Name) right now, and never do it again to me or to anyone else.”
  • Keep a record of what happened and when. Include dates, times, places, names of persons involved and witnesses, and who said what to whom.
  • Tell someone; don’t keep it to yourself. By being quiet about the harassment, you don’t help stop it. Chances are extremely good that you aren’t the only victim of your harasser.
  • Speaking up can be helpful in finding support and in protecting others from being victims.
  • Find out who is responsible for dealing with harassment at the company you work for and whether you can talk in confidence to that person. Almost all businesses have sexual harassment policies, procedures and individuals or counselors who administer them.
  • If you are a union member, speak to your union representative. Unions are generally very committed to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.

Adapted from: The American Psychological Association)

Given this complicated position, the brave women who come forward and report the incident need assistance with a range of services including civil, criminal and immigration legal services; health and mental health care; disability; safety; privacy; housing; education; employment; and public benefits. These services are available in a culturally sensitive manner, with an understanding of the unique circumstances of farmworker women.

There is no easy way to escape living in crisis, but female farmworkers that have been sexually harassed are not alone. Assault victims can receive appropriate emotional, physical, and legal support needed to move forward from the experience. To prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the work place it is vital to report perpetrators and share support in formation to victims. Trained professionals are available to offer emotional support and inform individuals of their civil rights in English and in Spanish.


California Rural Legal Assistance Inc.: Farmworker Sexual Violence Technical Assistance Project

Offers resources such as guidebooks and technical legal assistance.

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Conversations with the National Sexual Assault Hotline are private and completely anonymous, unless the person chooses to share identification. Information available 24 hours a day. Spanish and English professionals available.

1 (800) 656-4673

The Migrant Health Center

Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. available 24 hours a day through machine services. Spanish and English professionals available.
1 (800) 377-9968 Appointments