An In-Depth Look at Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Everyone deserves a safe and welcoming work environment. Yet, women too often fall victim to sexual harassment in the workplace. 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. Often, female farmworkers put up with constant unwelcomed grabbing or touching by their supervisors, and this behavior is only one of many examples of ways women may be sexually harassed at work. 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

Women farmworkers may feel forced to endure sexual encounters in order to protect their family. An individual may tolerate unwanted physical activity to keep their jobs and/or homes. Sexual harassment can make a victim feel guilty, but it is important to remember that it is never the victim’s fault. Sexual behaviors without consent are not acceptable and something no one should have to experience. Unfortunately, many assaulters are not held accountable for their actions. Few women come forward to talk about past and current sexual harassment because they are ashamed, fear their abuser, or fear immigration laws. It is vital that women seek help and speak to someone about their situation. If an assaulter is held responsible for their actions, future assaults can be prevented. You do not need to be a citizen or legal permanent resident to get a protection order, but it is important to consult a domestic violence advocate, or an immigration attorney first. There has been progress to end workplace victimization and to create a safe work place for women farmworkers. This year, California Senate Bill (SB) 1087 was introduced into the Legislature. Under SB 1087, labor licenses will be taken away from any employer who sexually harasses their employees. Other bills are also making their way through the California Legislature to crack down on employers and prevent sexual harassment, by enforcing strict sexual harassment training for farm supervisors, and all other farmworker employees While someone may never experience sexual harassment in the workplace, one may notice a colleague in the field who has or is experiencing it. Many women prefer not to talk about sexual assault experiences or do not exhibit any signs of harassment, but there are key signs that a woman maybe being abused.

Some signs of sexual harassment are:

  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Extreme changes in behavior
  • Fear of a person or place
  • Frequent washing or bathing

If a person notices a colleague exhibiting signs of sexual harassment,it is beneficial to reassure the victim that they can safely talk about abuse.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. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24 hours a day. Conversations with the National Sexual Assault Hotline are private and completely anonymous, unless the person chooses to share identification information. The hotline can be reached at 1 (800) 656-4673, and Spanish and English speaking professionals are available.The Migrant Health Center also offers assistance from trained professionals.To make an appointment at the Migrant Health Center call 1 (800)377-9968. The office is staffed with bilingual experts Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. and accessible 24 hours a day through machine services. They can also be found online at www.ncfh.org. Additionally,various organizations offer emergency assistance and/or long-term assistance to take full, complete control of the experience (see chart).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.