There is a noxiously galling, unsavory aspect to the exploitation of Mexican migrants. Have no illusions: Migrant workers — legal and illegal alike — are taken sore advantage of as cheap labor employers can work like horses, not bothering to provide medical care or any job-related benefits at all, including something so meager as unemployment insurance, and can regard as a disposable resource, a piece of equipment that can be readily replaced.
These workers come here and regularly put up with abuse for one reason — they desperately need the money. Otherwise, they’d stay the hell home where they speak the language, know the culture, and don’t have to rake and scrape, kowtowing to bosses who don’t respect them, and where they hold their ability to make a living in their hands.
It’s bad enough that Mexican men and boys have to go through this to make a dollar — and a poor one at that. Women and girls have it still worse. If you don’t let an owner or boss who says whether you’re hired sexually violate you, he’s the same one who says whether you’re fired.
Says Marie Cruz in the documentary Rape in the Fields (PBS-DVD), “They look like they own you, and whenever they want they can have you. I don’t speak English. I don’t have work papers. So, I have to put up with this.”
The 2013 film, a year-long investigation produced and written by director Andres Cediel with FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman, sheds damning light on ruthless, cowardly acts of rape committed as a matter of course against females who are hopelessly trapped in circumstance. They’re afraid to turn to the law. Some because the law has never been known to be a friend of the poor. Some because they are on American soil without the permission of the law.
For all that these females are violated in virtual isolation, this crime doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Food growers who themselves victimize them and company personnel who get away with it do so with the tacit sanction of lax law enforcement. They also do it because money talks. It talks and it silences. It effectively silences the voices of victims when the perpetrators have it to influence authorities.
Importantly, across the country, where consumers take the product off the shelf and bring it home, the money they leave in the cash register fully funds and supports this tragic travesty. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, works hard to fight this far-reaching dilemma. Importantly, her historic stature as an advocate for abused workers gives the issue a profile that can no longer be easily ignored.
Even when these violated women do seek redress, the most blatant denial of justice can transpire, but speaking up and charging assailants with sexual assault hasn’t always proved fruitless.
Rape in the Fields squarely confronts a serious problem that has been going on for far too long and, foreseeably, will continue to go on for far too long. Unless and until something is done, in the land of the free, to come to the aid of these women and girls who come looking to make a living and find themselves working in a sexual prison.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.
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