Investigating Sexual Assault in the Agriculture Industry

Investigating Sexual Assault in the Agriculture Industry

Photo Courtesy of CIAT, Flickr

Photo Courtesy of CIAT, Flickr

All over the country, immigrant workers spend hours harvesting the very fruits and vegetables that we put on our tables every day. However, many of these women face more than sore fingers and a blistering sun on the job. Verbal and sexual assault run rampant in the fields, and unfortunately the majority of these cases go unreported by the victims. When a report does come out, it often gets dismissed due to lack of evidence. Corporations in the agriculture industry that suspect sexual assault can hire a private investigator to conduct an internal investigation of the allegations.

Pressured by Power

In May of 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 96-page report detailing the workplace abuse that farmworkers have faced and bringing to light the stories of those victims who had kept silent for so long. According to the report, women farmworkers are most often threatened by men who oversee them, and who are in positions of power. One particular worker was quoted in the report, stating:

“For me, it felt like an eternity. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. Afterward, he said I should remember that it’s because of him that I have this job, and if I say anything, I’ll lose my job…. I was afraid to call the police, to do anything. I didn’t know what to do. My mind was completely blocked off.”

Nearly all of the workers interviewed by HRW reported being victims of sexual abuse at work or knowing of someone who had. Other victims shared similar stories, with supervisors bribing them with money or threatening to fire them if they spoke of the abuse. Although workplace sexual harassment appears to be commonplace in the fields, it is incredibly hard to pinpoint the amount. Many of these women do not have a choice and worry that they’ll lose the only source of income their family has. For some, sexual harassment has become part of the job.

A Growing Problem

Despite the efforts of organizations like Human Rights Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting, the sexual harassment female farmworkers face still continues. Those who work in agriculture already face challenges such as low wages and long hours, so victims of abuse fall through the cracks. Thanks to these organizations and the women they spoke to, many more victims are coming forward. Even so, the allegations rarely result in justice, with most cases being dismissed or left up in the air. Farmworkers often do not have the funds to afford an attorney, and many of the cases lack physical evidence needed to convict the accused.

Consider the case of Evans Fruit Co., one of the largest suppliers of apples in the United States. A supervisor was accused of assaulting several women, including a 15 year-old girl. Both the victims and the supervisor had conflicting stories, but the company won the case in the end. In most cases such as this one, the alleged abuser is a repeat offender that won’t stop until he is caught.

Importance of Internal Investigations

Companies have begun to provide training on sexual assault to ensure that their workers understand their rights. However, many corporations hire farm labor contractors that oversee the hiring of workers and the harvesting of crops. The recent Supreme Court case Vance V. Ball State University has made it more difficult for employers to sue the supervisors that are abusing their employees. Many of these businesses are unaware of the abuse, thus tarnishing their image and resulting in a loss of employees.

Conducting an internal investigation of these allegations can help large companies weed out abusive employees and protect the innocent, as well as prove the legitimacy of these claims. Sexual harassment can be a difficult and emotional experience for everyone involved, which is why it is important to hire a professional investigator. Too often, these claims are not investigated deeply enough and as a result, seem to be unfounded. Thomas Lauth, CEO and founder of Lauth Investigations International, Inc., understands the importance of sexual harassment claims and the damage they cause to both the victims and the employers. The experienced private investigators at Lauth Investigations International, Inc. will work closely with your company in a thorough and professional manner.