As House GOP Weakens Protections For Immigrant Women, Report Shows Epidemic Of Sexual Assault

While the House was busy limiting the protections of immigrant women who are subject to sexual violence in their version of the Violence Against Women Act, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the sexual abuse and harassment that they are commonly faced with. Because their immigrant status makes female immigrant farmworkers fearful of reporting offenders, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse. The report, which included 162 interviews in 11 states, mirrors two previous ones that focused on California The Washington Post reports.

“Our research confirms what farmworker advocates across the country believe: sexual violence and sexual harassment experienced by farmworkers is common enough that some farmworker women see these abuses as an unavoidable condition of agricultural work,” said the report.

An estimated 630,000 of the 3 million people who perform migrant and seasonal farm work are female. The federal government estimates that 60 percent of them are undocumented.

It’s easiest for abusers to get away with sexual harassment where there’s an imbalance of power, and the imbalance of power is particularly stark on farms,” the report’s author, Grace Meng, told The Associated Press.


Fear of being deported prevents female farmworkers from reporting the instances of rape, stalking, fondling, and vulgar language that are described in the report. Farmworkers described experiences such as the following:

  • A woman in California reported that a supervisor at a lettuce company raped her and later told her that she “should remember it’s because of him that [she has] this job.”
  • A woman in New York said that a supervisor, when she picked potatoes and onions, would touch women’s breasts and buttocks. If they tried to resist, he would threaten to call immigration or fire them.
  • Four women who had worked together packing cauliflower in California said a supervisor would regularly expose himself and make comments like, “[That woman] needs to be fucked!” When they tried to defend one young woman whom he singled out for particular abuse, he fired all of them..

In the report, Human Rights Watch calls for strengthened legal protections for immigrant farmworkers, starting with enacting the Senate version of VAWA. The House failed to respond to this recommendation, and in fact reduced protections available to immigrant crime victims in VAWA. Right now, victims of sexual abuse who cooperate with law enforcement may be eligible for U visas, which make women feel safe to report crimes to police without fear of deportation. The House version of VAWA limits U visas to cases actively under investigation or currently being prosecuted. These limits create gray areas around investigation and prosecution that could expose victims to deportation.

— Alex Brown