The San Diego workforce is full of immigrants from across the border. Some are legal to work in the U.S.; many are not. Regardless of their status, they face a threat that is, in many ways, more terrible than deportation. It’s a threat that some of them left Mexico to escape.
The threat is workplace sexual assault targeting immigrants.
Exhibit A: Farm Workers
Last November, National Public Radio aired a feature on this issue, highlighting the story of Maricruz Ladino, a farm worker in the Salinas Valley. She detailed how, in 2006, a supervisor raped her during work hours.
After seven months of silence, fearful of losing her only means of supporting her family, she finally lodged a complaint against her assailant. As she feared, taking action got her fired.
While the company agreed to a confidential settlement for Ms. Landino in 2010, the terms dictated that Ms. Landino never disclose the supervisor’s name. No police report was filed against him. Like so many perpetrators of sexually assault, he never had to face the law.
‘They Have No Idea Where to Go’
Ms. Landino’s case is far from unusual. Not only in agriculture, but across the spectrum of California’s industries, immigrant workers often depend on the good will of their supervisor to feed themselves and their families. An attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created by the U.S. government to protect workers from discrimination, confirmed that a supervisor like the one who raped Ms. Ladino holds all the power in an immigrant employee’s life. It’s the ideal position, he told NPR, for a sexual predator.
Grace Meng, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, succinctly detailed the challenges that immigrants face when confronted with sexual violence at work:
“They often don’t speak English. They don’t have legal status. They’re afraid of the police. They have no idea where to go.”
Because of those barriers, many assaults and incidents of harassment go unreported, making it hard to establish conclusive facts on the problem’s scope. What’s more is that this secrecy confounds victims’ confusion about what to do when it happens.
Slow Steps Forward
The EEOC has been reaching out to immigrant workers, particularly those in the farming industry, to offer them help and protection from abusive situations. They have successfully won millions of dollars in back wages and damages for victims of sexual assault. Just as importantly, they have brought national attention to this issue. Thanks to reports like the NPR story, and the recent FRONTLINE documentary “Rape in the Fields,” sexual assault against immigrants is no longer a dirty little secret.
What the EEOC cannot do, however, is bring perpetrators to true justice. The most they can do is bring charges to be settled privately.
As in Ms. Landino’s case, that means never being able to see justice served and knowing that the attacker is still at large. In some ways, she still remains a victim of her 2006 assault—she reported to NPR that to this day, she routinely deals with salacious comments from male coworkers about her body.
Don’t Be a Victim of Silence
If you’ve been victimized by sexual assault, you know that getting the resources you deserve is only half the battle. It’s vitally important to your recovery to see justice done. Don’t fall victim to silence and secrecy. Jessica Pride is San Diego’s leading personal injury attorney in sexual assault cases. Contact Jessica today for a confidential consultation to get the help you need.