Rape in the Fields addresses the experiences of immigrant farm-worker women who have been raped by their supervisors. These women come to the United States with hopes of a better life for themselves and their families, and they are mainly undocumented. They risk much to cross the border, and the risk of losing their jobs and being deported makes speaking out about this crime extremely difficult. Although so ashamed, they also fear reprisal so much that they may continue to bear repeated assault.
Most of the U.S.grown food we eat has been touched by women like these who work long, difficult hours for poverty wages. Field labor is physically hard and exposes workers to dangerous equipment and the elements, as well as pesticides. These hazards and hardships are compounded by criminal victimization. Female workers endure sexual coercion and are consistently in fear. Their supervisors see them as easy, disposable targets. There are always more women behind them desperate for work. The value of machismo tends to amplify the problem. Men dominate women, and women are submissive to men. This leads men to see women as objects they can use whenever they want without a thought to their feelings.
My father supervised many undocumented immigrants years ago in the orange groves across the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He typically had about fifteen people working for him. Most were men, but wives often worked alongside them. I told him about this documentary and asked him if he knew of instances in which women were assaulted or harassed while on the job. He told me that he could see how assault could happen. Orange groves are often located on the outskirts of town, isolated from the population, and stretching for miles on end. If she yelled at all, a woman’s cry for help would be hard to hear. Many women in these jobs were in such need that they would have endured almost anything. The fact that only a few women spoke out is not hard to believe. Although my dad said he never witnessed such behavior, he did say he heard verbal abuse at times that would lead to scuffles between men.
This documentary helps to give voice to women all over the country who fall victim to assault at the hands of their bosses. Obviously, all women, documented or undocumented, should have the right to work without fear of harassment or violence. At present, the only federal agency that is pursuing this problem is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Victims are reluctant to come forward, but as they do, this will empower others to do the same. I admire these women for their strength and courage, and hope that more will be done to protect them should they continue to labor in the fields.