Review: Rape in the Fields

Mari P-A reviews last year's PBS Frontline documentary

Mass victimization

We are all either someone’s mother, daughter, sister, daughter or brother – whether by blood or choice. When watching¬†Rape in the Fields, I couldn’t help but think about this sentiment; these women were not just statistics but real people, deeply traumatized by the abuse they’ve been subjected to. While family influences who we become up to a point, it is also important to understand the societies people are raised in. Since the beginning of class society in the Neolithic period, women have been oppressed due to the division of society between the haves and have-nots. This ultimately led to women being treated as the lesser sex, which gave way to the societal norms we have now. Norms where women are frequently viewed as sexual objects to be had and not as equals.

The 500,000 women working the fields and orchards of the United States are frequently viewed as “things to be had.” Many of these women are undocumented immigrants who are exploited by large corporations like DeCoster, as profiled in the film, for their cheap labor. Their lack of rights and fear of deportation due to their “illegal” status made these women rape targets for supervisors or other men who held a position of superiority over them.

Many women reported being sexually harassed and raped by the man responsible for hiring new workers, having been told that if they didn’t comply, they wouldn’t be hired. Some refused but most, who desperately needed work and were fearful of deportation, felt they had no choice. In other cases where women were already employed, supervisors would use routine field inspections as a way to lure women into secluded and far away locations where the women would then be raped. After the assaults, the women were told that if they told anyone they would lose their jobs, be deported or even that someone in their family would be hurt as well.

Women took to calling the fields the “Green Motel” or “Field of Panties” because of the rampant abuse. In some instances women did go to the police and when the police were alerted they did nothing; none of the men featured in the movie were never arrested and prosecuted.¬† Eventually the U Visa was devised by Congress to remedy the situation. The U Visa became a way for undocumented women to safely report rape and other crimes without fear of being deported by giving them “temporary legal status” in the United States for up to four years, assuming the visa is approved. While this gives aid to many women it is by no means a solution. The U Visa is a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa; only 10,000 can be issued each fiscal year and they can be revoked at any point.

Two thirds of rape instances go unreported in United States. A California agribusiness¬† representative stated in the film that rape was “not a big deal in the field” and it “doesn’t happen often”; he also states that if a women is raped, being fearful for her job and /or life “are not an excuse” for it to go unreported. While these examples of rape are shocking, they are only the sharpest edge of a much more widespread phenomenon. This is the everyday reality of what women face.

The immediate way to fight these injustices committed against the undocumented women is to give not only them but all undocumented workers full citizenship rights, taking away some of the bosses’ power to disorganize and isolate. As for sending rape itself to the dustbin of history where it belongs, that will require building a powerful socialist movement, one that brings the struggle against patriarchy and inequality together with the struggles of all oppressed people.

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