By: James Porter*
Did you have tomatoes on your sandwich for lunch? Did you tell the employee at the deli to add extra onions? Maybe you will go home this evening and relax with a nice glass of California Chardonnay? It is likely that some, if not all of these items will have passed through the hands of an immigrant woman.
In observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) launched a national campaign yesterday to raise awareness of sexual violence against immigrant women in the food industry. I was fortunate enough to attend their kick-off panel yesterday with members of the SPLC staff; Patrick David Lopez, General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and Mohamed Mattar, Executive Director of The Protection Project. Also speaking was an immigrant woman named Carina who was a victim of sexual violence while working in the food industry.
It was this brave woman’s story that brings to light an often hidden problem. As a worker on an onion farm, most of Carina’s co-workers did not speak English. Her English-speaking supervisor would often tell the women working there that they had to let him touch them or they would be fired for doing a bad job. He would allow his friends to come in and say vulgar things to the women and hit some of Carina’s friends. She even had pesticide sprayed on her and was told that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would be called if she said anything to the authorities.
A single mother of three, Carina left her children in Mexico 5 years ago to try to lift them out of poverty and escape their father, who had been abusing her for 10 years. When she went to the police in Mexico about him, she was told she must have done something wrong to deserve her beating. When the children’s father later brought themto the U.S., Carina endured abuse for another 5 years until she decided to never let it happen again, not by her partner or by her employer. She is no longer with the father of her children, and reported the abuse occurring at work to the authorities.
Carina’s story is only one of many that occur in the U.S. every day. Supervisors think they can get away with sexual assault because they threaten to call ICE, or to have the women fired. Some even purposefully call ICE to have the women removed to avoid paying wages, and then hire other workers to replace them. The abusers see these women as “perfect victims” because they speak little English, are seen as lacking credibility, may be undocumented, and do not fully know their rights.
CLINIC works to help immigrant survivors of domestic violence and victims of trafficking and enslavement by providing both technical assistance and direct services. In particular, CLINIC offers advocate training sessions on the types of immigration relief available to victims of abuse and other crimes, as well as direct technical assistance to CLINIC members who represent victims of crime. CLINIC also helps survivors escape from dangerous situations and obtain legal residence on their own, while assisting them with shelter, long-term housing, food, clothing, employment, job training, and mental health and legal counseling. For more information on CLINIC’s VAWA Immigration Project, click here.
*James is a Communications Officer for CLINIC