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Sexual harassment figures are staggering for female food workers

Female workers in the agricultural and food processing industries face an alarmingly high degree of harassment and other workplace abuses. Studies have found that up to 40 percent of female food industry workers have been subjected to sexual harassment including improper advances, coercion, assault, and rape. In what are significantly high numbers of alleged incidents in Texas and other states, 85 percent of the women who have complained to management faced retaliation that included some of the women being fired or demoted, and some even experienced an escalation in the harassment, while the accused offender faced no consequences.

Hundreds of female agricultural workers have approached the federal government with stories of on-the-job assaults. In a vast majority of the allegations, the assailants were supervisors or other men whose position gave them some element of power over the female workers. Many of the supervisors involved have been pointed out as the offender in numerous allegations of abuse, yet they remain employed and continue their actions without fear of a reprimand.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has so far been the main gathering point of the reported abuses. The agency received more than 1,100 complaints over a fifteen-year span from workers in the food-related industries. Only a small number of the complaints the agency receives, however, make it into the federal courts.

In order for the abuses to stop or decline here in Texas and elsewhere, abused food industry workers and conscientious whistle-blowers must be able to come forward with their allegations without any fear of reprisals. The workplace sexual harassment and violence of the sort commonly encountered by women in these industries should not be tolerated in a civilized society. Vigorous and highly aggressive litigation will be a vital step in curtailing the virtually inhuman conditions under which many female agricultural workers currently struggle to survive.

Source: Source: thejanedough.com, "Female Agricultural Workers Routinely Encounter Rape and Sexual Harassment," Colette McIntyre, July 9, 2013

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