When the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld an award of almost $1 million to a farmworker whose supervisor had raped her, farmworker advocates celebrated from the lettuce fields of California to the orange groves of Florida. According to the sexual harassment and retaliation suit filed against Harris Farms, a Fresno County agricultural giant, Olivia Tamayo's supervisor raped her three times. The first attack occurred in his car when she accepted a ride to work. The second, under a stand of almond trees. The third, at her home while her husband was at work and her children asleep. The company's solution, according to the suit: Reassign her to an isolated spot in a field nearer to her attacker's house.
Tamayo's ordeal, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident. The sexual harassment of female farmworkers has long been a dirty secret of migrant labor. Studies are sparse, but one by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that 90% of female farmworkers in California surveyed in 1993 said sexual harassment was a serious problem. Vulnerable because of their poverty, their limited English skills and often their immigration status, these women are easy prey. Harassers sometimes threaten to report illegal immigrants or their relatives if victims do not remain silent, advocates say.