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Violence Against Women
California’s 1.2 million farm workers, over thirty-five percent of whom are women, comprise one of the largest labor forces in the United States. This group participates in an employment situation that is unlike any other in this country. Farm laborers work longer hours, earn lower wages, face more hazardous work conditions and receive fewer benefits than any other labor group in the United States. These workers are predominantly from Mexico (96%) and limited-English proficient, speaking either Spanish or an indigenous Mexican language.
Refugees from an oppressive political and economic situation in their homelands, farm workers turn to agricultural work as one of their few opportunities for employment, becoming targets for exploitation by labor contractors and growers. Because of limited access to the information, innovation, trade, services and financial resources that drive today’s economy, they languish devoid of the opportunities to share in our nation’s prosperity.
Despite the high incidence of a number of social ills associated with poverty - such as poor health, substance abuse, domestic violence and deteriorated housing – farm workers are often unable to access the preventive and safety net services they need to live healthy and productive lives. In rural areas, municipal infrastructure, including transportation systems, utilities, public institutions and other services, is inadequate. Educational organizations, health and human service agencies and other institutions often do not provide quality services in remote areas due to unavailability of trained, culturally competent staff, transportation difficulties as well as undercounting, isolation and transience of rural farm worker populations.
For a number of reasons, farm worker women are especially disenfranchised and suffer from high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence. 17% reported abuse by a husband, boyfriend, family member or companion (California Women’s Health Survey, 1994). They are likely to confront particular barriers rooted in the intersection of gender with race, immigration status, lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system, and culture which contribute to their victimization and trap them in abusive relationships.
In communities where sex role stereotyping and internalized oppression are strong, the sexual exploitation of women takes on epidemic proportions.
From childhood, Latinas are often raised to be submissive and dependent, and are especially vulnerable to verbal and physical harassment and domestic violence up to and including rape. At the workplace, farm worker women face the specter of sexual harassment and sexual assault. At home, they are at high risk for domestic violence and sexual assault.
These facts are borne out through crime statistics. (Please note that crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence are much underreported, and that the following information reflects this reality: actual rates are thought to be much higher.)
Crimes against women constitute a higher percentage of crimes in the counties that are in our service area. For example, 85% of the total reported crimes in Merced County are rape and assault, 77% for Kern County, 78% for Madera County, 75% for Fresno County, 69% for Ventura County, 86% for Tulare County, 84% for Pajaro Valley, 73% for Salinas Valley, and 80% for the Coachella Valley. (In California, the statewide average is 70%.)
Current resources are not meeting the needs of California’s farm worker women in the proposed service area. The suffering of victims who are migrant farm worker women is exacerbated because so often they are isolated in rural communities with little real access to social, legal and other supportive services. In particular, there is a dearth of community- based assistance that is sensitive to particular barriers and issues and would help them to prevent and recover from sexual assault and domestic violence. Also, victim’s health and safety can be greatly increased with information about the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) which, was reauthorized in 2005, significantly expands the legal rights of battered immigrant women and their children, helps more women file for legal immigration status without their abusers’ cooperation and helps them access public benefits for themselves and/or their children. Because few farm worker women are currently able to access this relief, survivor advocates must know the legal rights of battered immigrant women. Alternative remedies that address the unique needs of the farm worker women’s community, and that do not depend upon the formal legal and social service systems, must be developed and tested. Farm worker women’s advocates must then work together at state community levels to educate others and to change the way farm worker women are treated when they seek help.
In California farm worker women play an active role in ensuring awareness of and access to existing protections. Farm worker women, through Lideres Campesinas help reform laws, policies and practices in their communities that cut victims off from systems of relief.
Advocacy and support is needed to ensure that police, courts, shelters, crisis centers, public benefits, immigration, legal aid, and health care systems do not fail farm worker battered/exploited women who are legally entitled to help. Most employees working in these systems are unaware of the special legal protections open to battered/exploited immigrant women and farm worker women. This lack of information, coupled with widespread anti-immigrant sentiment, has a devastating impact on battered and exploited farm worker women who turn to the legal or social service system for help.
California NOW also believes that:
The State of California should ensure equal access to preventative and safety net services throughout California;
The State of California should have a role in ensuring that local police, prosecutors and judges adequately enforce laws against domestic violence, sexual assault and all other forms of violence against women;
Adequate funding should be made available to eliminate the rape kit backlog;
California should ensure a school environment that is free from physical and psychological harm by requiring curriculum promoting healthy relationships and preventing teen dating violence;
California should support the establishment of a US Department of Peace and Nonviolence charged with decreasing violence against women and girls.