Rape in the Fields
WRITTEN BY Lowell Bergman & Andres Cediel
ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE—
DOLORES HUERTA, Co-Founder, United Farm Workers: Women are treated as sex objects when they’re out there in the field.
ANNOUNCER: —an exclusive year-long investigation.
SONIA PARRAS, Immigration Lawyer: We found really bad situations with ongoing intense sexual violence.
BERTA ALBERTS, High School Educator, Clarion, IA: They were all afraid they were going to get deported.
ROBERT REICH, Fmr. Secretary of Labor: And if you’re an undocumented worker in America, you are a captive.
MARICRUZ LADINO: [subtitles] He harassed me all the time.
WOMAN: [subtitles] He would try to touch me.
ANNOUNCER: Female farmworkers empowered to speak out.
MARICRUZ LADINO: [subtitles] I said, “No more. No more.”
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman in collaboration with Univision and the Center for Investigative Reporting investigate.
LOWELL BERGMAN, Correspondent: No one’s ever been charged for rape or assault.
SONIA PARRAS: No.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Rape in the Fields.
LOWELL BERGMAN, Correspondent: [voice-over] There are over half million women working in the fields of America. Most are undocumented immigrants. This is a story about the price many women pay to keep those jobs, and to keep food on our tables.
1st FARMWORKER: [subtitles] The foreman told my father “We have no work for you, but I can hire your daughters.” And from the moment we started to work in the fields, they harassed us horribly.
2nd FARMWORKER: [subtitles] They look at you like they own you, and whenever they want you, they can have you.
3rd FARMWORKER: [subtitles] I don’t speak English. I don’t have work papers. So I have to put up with this.
4th FARMWORKER: [subtitles] He was in control because he was the supervisor. He was in charge.
5th FARMWORKER: [subtitles] He would say, “One more time, one more time” over and over and over.
6th FARMWORKER: [subtitles] And if you don’t give in, you don’t have a job the next season.
7th FARMWORKER: [subtitles] We were all afraid. They could hurt me or my family.
LOWELL BERGMAN: They have lived in the shadows, unheard and unseen until now.
MARICRUZ LADINO: [subtitles] He took advantage of me. I couldn’t even scream. Because it’s very traumatic. You don’t even know how to react. I’ve worked in the fields for 18 years. Long years.
LOWELL BERGMAN: For the past year, we’ve been investigating the sexual abuse of female farmworkers. It’s a story that has gone virtually unreported, in part because women simply feared to speak out.
Maricruz Ladino was among the first to agree to appear on camera.
MARICRUZ LADINO: [subtitles] It’s a little difficult for me to bring back those memories. There are supervisors who try to— who use their power to mistreat or abuse people. One of the supervisors wanted me to go with him to check the crops, and he insinuated that he wanted other things with me.
One day we went to do an inspection in a field. He took the opportunity to abuse me. It happened in a place far from other people. If I said anything, I would lose my job. I couldn’t lose my job because I was the one taking care of my daughters. It’s very difficult to decide what to say. What do I— how do I react?
LOWELL BERGMAN: Maricruz is not alone. Female farmworkers have been abused for generations.
DOLORES HUERTA, Co-Founder, United Farm Workers: I became aware of it as a young woman, and my mother would never let me work in the fields.
[United Farm Workers rally, 1966] You cannot close your eyes and your ears to us any longer.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Dolores Huerta was one of the founders of the United Farm Workers, with Cesar Chavez.
DOLORES HUERTA: Harassment was part of the job, so to speak. Women are look at as sex objects when they’re out there in the field. Sexual harassment is an epidemic in the fields, and it again goes back to the vulnerability that women have, that farmworker women have.
They work in isolated places. Many of them don’t speak English. A lot of them don’t even know the laws. They don’t even know that they can report sexual harassment and that the employer can be responsible for that. And so they feel helpless.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Until 1995, there was no government agency that made the plight of female farmworkers a priority. Then Bill Tamayo went to work in San Francisco for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC.
[www.pbs.org: The EEOC's mission]
BILL TAMAYO, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: I met with the advocates for farmworkers, and I said, “What are the main issues that you see we should address?” And they nearly all said the same thing. It was sexual harassment in the fields.
And they said, “Look, if there’s anything you can help us with, it’s just that women are being raped in the fields by co-workers and supervisors.”
Farmworker women were talking about the fields as the fields “de calzón” or “fields of panties” because that’s where the women had to go in order to get a job, keep a job, get a promotion. It was the classic quid pro quo. They referred to the fields as the “green motel” because it was where they had to go and have sex with a hiring official.
My initial reaction was asking myself, “Wow, over a century after slavery had ended, why do we still have these conditions in the fields?”
LOWELL BERGMAN: So Tamayo set out to investigate and prosecute cases. Tamayo and the EEOC could not bring criminal charges against perpetrators, but they could sue a perpetrator’s employer. And in 2002, they did, in a landmark case.
BILL TAMAYO: That was the case against Harris Farms, which involved a farmworker being raped three times at gunpoint by her supervisor, who then threatened the victim if she complained about the sexual harassment.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The EEOC vs. Harris Farms was the first case of “rape in the fields” to go to trial. Harris Farms is one of the biggest agribusinesses in the country. Headquartered in Fresno County, it sprawls across California’s Central Valley and its almond orchards stretch for miles.
One summer afternoon, a Harris Farms worker named Olivia Tamayo says that a supervisor ordered her to get into his truck.
OLIVIA TAMAYO: [2006 radio interview] [subtitles] He brought me out to an almond orchard. That was the moment when he showed me the gun. I tried to defend myself as best I could. He raped me. He always said that I was his, and that he would never leave me in peace.
LOWELL BERGMAN: This video shows the man accused of raping Olivia Tamayo, Rene Rodriguez, in pre-trial testimony. He insists their relationship was consensual.
HARRIS ATTORNEY: Did you have sexual relations with Ms. Tamayo at that time?
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [through interpreter] At her house, yes. And when I would go to her house— to her house, she would come and she would open the door and she was already in a gown.
HARRIS ATTORNEY: Are you saying she was wearing a nightgown when she greeted you?
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [through interpreter] Exactly. It was a red nightgown.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Olivia testified she was raped by Rodriguez three times, once in an almond grove, again while she was on her way to work, and once when Rodriguez forced his way into her home.
OLIVIA TAMAYO: [radio interview] [subtitles] He said that if he wanted to, he could kill me. I became weary of so much abuse. It was— it was bad.
BILL TAMAYO: Olivia never told a soul. Finally, she went to a rape crisis center and the case was brought to the EEOC.
WILLIE SMITH: I received a phone call from Bill Tamayo of the EEOC.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Willie Smith was brought on as a trial attorney in the case. He’s one of the few private attorneys who represents farmworkers in sexual harassment cases.
WILLIE SMITH: There aren’t many people who do what we do. Sometimes, we feel like the Lone Ranger. Very early on, when I got involved in the case, I asked Harris’s attorney, “Are you willing to talk settlement?” John Harris said “Not one cent.” I said, “OK, we’ll see you in trial then.”
HARRIS ATTORNEY: How often did you have sex with Mrs. Tamayo after this relationship began?
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [through interpreter] Three times per week.
WILLIE SMITH: I said, “Well, three times a week for how many years?” He said for six years. So I said, “Oh, really? So that’s about a thousand times. You can identify her body then, can’t you, any surgical scars, varicose veins, et cetera, et cetera.” He couldn’t answer any of those questions, so I knew then we had— he was a liar.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The jury agreed and awarded damages to Olivia. Harris appealed and lost again.
JOHN HARRIS, Harris Farms CEO: I’m John Harris. I grew up out here—
LOWELL BERGMAN: We found John Harris, the CEO of Harris Farms, on a press tour. He declined to talk, insisting later in a statement that he still believes that the relationship between Olivia Tamayo and Rene Rodriguez was consensual.
[on camera] So when you won the civil case, was there a criminal investigation after that?
BILL TAMAYO, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Police were alerted, and they didn’t do anything.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And the perpetrator?
BILL TAMAYO: He was allowed to retire, supposedly in Texas. Never been arrested for these crimes.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] We tracked down Rene Rodriguez at his home in south Texas.
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] Do you consider yourself innocent?
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [subtitles] Not innocent. But the problem is, we were going out.
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] You never raped her?
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [subtitles] I was going out with her.
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] So you never raped her?
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [long pause] [subtitles] You know, there’s no reason for this. It’s been so many years since my case. The case is closed.
INTERVIEWER: [subtitles] How do you explain the accusation? She said you used violence, you had a gun and a knife.
RENE RODRIGUEZ: [laughs] [subtitles] If that had been true, they would have thrown me in jail or something. Right?
LOWELL BERGMAN: Renee Rodriguez would retire from Harris Farms. When asked why there was not a criminal investigation, the Fresno County sheriff said, “I don’t have an answer.”
Two years after the Olivia Tamayo verdict, the EEOC would start investigating what would become one of its biggest cases. It took place here, in Washington state’s Yakima Valley, the center of the nation’s multi-billion-dollar apple industry.
The case was against one of the largest apple growers in the country, Evans Fruit, whose orchards blanket the Yakima Valley. Evans produces hundreds of millions of apples every year, employing thousands of seasonal laborers.
The person at the center of the case was the long-time foreman of Evans Fruit’s Rattlesnake Ranch, Juan Marin.
WOMAN: [subtitles] If anyone wanted work, they’d find Juan Marin. He’s the one who would hire people. He was the foreman.
We were in his truck. He told me that I was pretty, and he started touching me. If I didn’t get into the truck, he would have fired me.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Women workers at Evans Fruit say that Juan Marin’s sexual harassment had been an open secret for decades, but they were too afraid to speak out against their foreman.
WOMAN: [subtitles] We’ve heard rumors that he has done things. That’s what scares me the most. I know more women who have gone through this and don’t want to talk. They’re scared.
LOWELL BERGMAN: In the summer of 2006, a mother brought her 15-year old daughter to work at Evans Fruit.
ANGELA MENDOZA: [subtitles] He turned to my daughter, looking her up and down. “What a lovely daughter you have. Where have you been hiding her?”
He told me to give him my daughter, Jacqueline, and he was going to have her bearing children year after year. He started laughing and making fun of me, Juan Marin, the foreman.
LOWELL BERGMAN: According to Angela Mendoza, Juan Marin’s harassment escalated until one day, she caught him groping her daughter.
Angela and Jacqueline quit and filed complaints with the EEOC against Evans Fruit. Over the next four years, as the EEOC investigation continued, women in the Yakima Valley began coming forward one by one. The women accused Juan Marin of propositioning them for sex, assaulting them in his truck, and attempted rape.
DANELIA BARAJAS: [subtitles] I was a victim of sexual harassment for more than three years. It was the foreman, Juan Marin.
CESILIA LUA: [subtitles] I was a victim of sexual harassment by the foreman, Juan Marin. I had kept this quite for a long time because of the shame if my family or children found out. I decided to speak. This needed to stop.
DANELIA BARAJAS: [subtitles] I went in with a lot of hope that Juan Marin would be punished for everything he did to women.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Juan Marin no longer works at Evans Fruit, but we found him pruning in an orchard in the Yakima Valley.
JUAN MARIN: I was being accused for sexual harassment. And that’s completely a lie because I never bother nobody. The only thing I’ve been doing in my life is work. To me, it’s so unfair because I never did nothing like that in my life.
These ladies, they are accusing me. They’re nasty. I can never get involved in something like that. Oh, my God, no. I got a— I got a beautiful wife and I got beautiful kids. And that’s all I care. I can never betray my wife for something like that.
They’re going to find out what suffer is. They have to give me some evidence all this bunch of lies they’re saying and the stories they’re being making.
LOWELL BERGMAN: In all, 26 women would add their names to the EEOC lawsuit against Juan Marin’s employer, Evans Fruit. The case would go to trial in the spring of 2013.
Back in Salinas, California, Maricruz Ladino continued to work in the fields after she was assaulted. She was considering pursuing her own case, but was worried about the consequences.
MARICRUZ LADINO: [subtitles] After the incident, all I could do was think about what I was going to do. I didn’t say anything for a long time because of my job. But the time came when I said, “No more.” I made a complaint. They called me and said, “Here is your check. We don’t need you anymore.”
I started to think they were firing me because I complained about one of the people in charge. Then there were threats, and they got worse, threats that if I continued with the case, I would be deported.
Rep. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), Illinois: If people were actually to understand the vulnerability that undocumented women are subjected to— one phone call, and you’ll be deported. I mean, let’s recognize something. Fourteen hundred people are deported every day from the United States of America. There is fear and real terror in the immigrant community.
Wright County, Iowa
NEWSCASTER: Federal officials are still investigating—
NEWSCASTER: —a company with a long list of legal woes—
LOWELL BERGMAN: And that fear extends into America’s heartland, where our investigation led us to one of the nation’s largest egg processing operations where we discovered there was sexual violence at a company with a long history of problems with the law.
NEWSCASTER: —owned by Austin “Jack” DeCoster—
LOWELL BERGMAN: Jack DeCoster operated egg facilities across the country, and every year, billions of DeCoster eggs made it to market. This undercover footage documents DeCoster’s defiance of animal cruelty regulations.
The workers suffered, too, treated so badly that at one point, the Mexican government sued DeCoster on behalf of its citizens for its horrendous working conditions.
ROBERT REICH, Fmr. Secretary of Labor: Violations were just the cost of doing business. It was cheaper for them, in other words, to pay the fines and to continue to pay the fines than to actually clean up their act.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Robert Reich was secretary of labor under President Clinton. He became deeply involved in the investigation of health and safety violations at DeCoster facilities.
ROBERT REICH: In my experience, when you have companies that disregard one set of laws, they’re likely to be disregarding all laws. They’re likely to create a culture that is not just one of illegality but one of crass disregard for the lives of employees.
NEWSCASTER: DeCoster pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and—
LOWELL BERGMAN: Paul Schultz was the sheriff of Wright County, Iowa, and he became very familiar with DeCoster.
PAUL SCHULTZ, Fmr. Sheriff, Wright County, IA: They’ve earned their reputation, or made their own reputation, as far as the way they’ve treated workers.
LOWELL BERGMAN: When immigration patrols reached Wright County, DeCoster managers took steps to hide their illegal workforce.
PAUL SCHULTZ: If they would hear of an immigration vehicle being around the area, they would lock the doors of the plant or post people at the exits of the plant so the people could not leave.
LOWELL BERGMAN: DeCoster supervisors locked up the workers for days on end. And people in the community began to notice.
BERTA ALBERTS, High School Educator, Clarion, IA: One young lady, she said, “Our parents haven’t been home for three days. They went to work and they never came back.” And I asked them, “Well, where are they?” And she said, “Well, I am communicating with my mom on the phone. They’re at the plants, sleeping in cardboard boxes, and they’ve been feeding them scrambled eggs.”
LOWELL BERGMAN: Workers had been calling their families, saying they couldn’t leave. Alberts took matters into her own hands, confronting the plant manager.
BERTA ALBERTS: I said, “I came to pick up the women. And if you don’t shut those machines off, I am calling the police.” So he shut the machines off. And I told the girls, “Let’s go.” And they walked out and I piled them in my van, and I think that I built this trust with them, that I can help them.
LOWELL BERGMAN: It was this trust that would unlock DeCoster’s deepest secret.
BERTA ALBERTS: One evening, one of them came knocking at the door. She said, “There’s more things going on. And it’s not just me. There’s other women.”
WOMAN: [subtitles] When there were new women with nice bodies, nice butts, they’d say, “Go over there.” They’d send her to another line. They left and they didn’t return. They disappeared.
Once, a young girl around 18 years old, very pretty— she left the warehouse crying at 10:00 PM. We asked her what had happened. She didn’t answer. We imagined the worst. We heard that they were raping them, the young girls.
BERTA ALBERTS: I said, “Should we get the police involved?” And she said, “No, we can’t.” They were all illegal and they were afraid they were going to get deported. Then this lady from the crisis intervention, she said, “I know a lawyer that can help us.”
LOWELL BERGMAN: The lawyer was Sonia Parras. Her law firm specializes in immigration issues and violence against women.
SONIA PARRAS, Immigration Lawyer: I remember one of them saying, “I’m just tired of having sex at work.” So I said, “Well, what do you mean? And she said, “I want to keep my job, but I don’t want to have sex at work anymore.” And that was when I realized the magnitude of the situation.
The women are being raped and are being sexually assaulted. And they know that immigration is outside. They’re also seeing law enforcement working with them. So if you’re seeing law enforcement coming into your plant and taking your— your co-workers, you’re not going to go to them the next day to say, “By the way, can you help me?”
PAUL SCHULTZ, Fmr. Sheriff, Wright County, IA: In a lot of cases, they’d take off running from the buildings.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] So you were involved in this perimeter security—
PAUL SCHULTZ: Correct.
LOWELL BERGMAN: —in some of these raids. And when people would run away—
PAUL SCHULTZ: Right. We would —
LOWELL BERGMAN: —you would help capture them.
PAUL SCHULTZ: We would help capture them, yes.
LOWELL BERGMAN: So it really isn’t any surprise that it would be unusual for someone to come in who was undocumented and tell you about a crime back then because you guys were also known for grabbing them and helping immigration.
PAUL SCHULTZ: It’s our job to do both.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Then that puts you in a— kind of an impossible situation, doesn’t it?
PAUL SCHULTZ: It does. Puts the victim in an almost impossible situation.
SONIA PARRAS: The main concerns for the women were confidentiality, privacy, safety. So I called an attorney for the EEOC, and we started working immediately on the case.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Dennis McBride is a senior trial attorney for the EEOC in the Midwest.
DENNIS McBRIDE: Women who are being sexually harassed at the workplace always feel trapped. But the ones who are documented workers typically have some outlet. Take a woman who’s undocumented and think how much more vulnerable she feels.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] And they’re afraid of the federal government. They’re afraid of being deported.
DENNIS McBRIDE: Right.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Could you do anything about that?
DENNIS McBRIDE: Yes, I could. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes this case stand out.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Congress had just passed the “U-visa” program, enacted to protect immigrant victims of crime from being deported.
DENNIS McBRIDE: There are two purposes of that program. One is to keep victims in the country so that they can testify against the perpetrators. And the other is to protect the victims.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The women from DeCoster would be the first in the country to apply for U-visas. But first they would have to cooperate with law enforcement, which meant telling their stories to Sheriff Schultz.
[www.pbs.org: More on the U-visa program]
Dennis McBride read their statements from the police report.
DENNIS MCBRIDE: [reading from police report] “He told her she was not the first one, and he has wanted to abuse her for a long time. She said she wanted to get out, but he had closed the door. She told us they had started fighting and he raped her.”
“She said the incident occurred on a dirt road somewhere between her home in Clarion and her work at plant number 2.”
“He had told her not to tell anyone, and that if she did not let him have sex with her, he would fire her.”
“She told us the second rape happened in the storage room at plant number 1. The supervisor again told her if she wanted to keep her job, she knew what to do. She explained to us that he pushed her against the wall and forcefully had sex with her.”
“She said they went into the storage area. She screamed and he told her not to scream.”
“She said that her supervisor continued to harass her by asking her when they were going to have intercourse again.”
PAUL SCHULTZ: I felt that the women took a big enough risk, and the consequences of that risk could have been quite substantial to them. I decided to sign the U-visas.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] And that allowed them at least not to be afraid of being deported.
PAUL SCHULTZ: Correct.
SONIA PARRAS: But after that, we didn’t hear anything else. I believe the prosecutor at that time declined to proceed with the case.
LOWELL BERGMAN: No one’s ever been charged for rape—
SONIA PARRAS: No.
LOWELL BERGMAN: —or assault.
SONIA PARRAS: No.
LOWELL BERGMAN: So how come no criminal charges?
PAUL SCHULTZ: Well, we conferred with our county attorney at the time, and he just felt that there was not enough there to substantiate or to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these things actually occurred.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Did you turn to the state attorney general, to the state police or to the FBI, and say, “We’re not getting anywhere on this, but we believe it’s a case”?
PAUL SCHULTZ: Yes, we did. We— in fact, we had an FBI agent with us at the time of the interviews.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Did he offer any advice, or did he say, “Maybe I’ll get our people involved”?
PAUL SCHULTZ: He told us that was not the FBI’s role. We also advised immigration of the allegations.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And you told them that this potentially mass rape was going on.
PAUL SCHULTZ: Correct.
LOWELL BERGMAN: What did they say?
PAUL SCHULTZ: Not too much of anything.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Did you ever question the perpetrators?
PAUL SCHULTZ: We had a very difficult time in locating any of the perpetrators.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, one of them you knew, right?
PAUL SCHULTZ: Renteria, yeah. He absconded shortly thereafter.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] The Justice Department did indict Ricardo Renteria— not for sexual assault but on immigration charges. According to the U.S. Marshals, Renteria is still a fugitive. At his last known address, his mother told us he was living in Mexico City.
INTERVIEWER: Is he coming back soon?
MOTHER: No, I don’t think he is coming back soon.
INTERVIEWER: Is it because of the accusations against him?
MOTHER: Yes, probably because of that.
INTERVIEWER: So the U.S. Marshals are looking for him?
MOTHER: I don’t know. They haven’t been here.
LOWELL BERGMAN: In the end, we found Renteria— not in Mexico but on Facebook, where he counts among his friends members of the DeCoster family. We made repeated attempts to try and reach the DeCosters. They never responded.
But they did respond when the EEOC sued them. DeCoster settled the case, and the women were awarded $1.3 million. But DeCoster denied any wrongdoing.
In the years following the DeCoster case, Sonia Parras became one of the country’s leading advocates for abused immigrant women. Parras is herself an immigrant, from Spain. She was shocked by the working conditions she found in this country.
SONIA PARRAS: This is the land of the dreams and the freedom and where you make your dreams come true. This wasn’t supposed to be happening like this here.
LOWELL BERGMAN: In 2008, Parras began to hear rumors that federal agents were mobilizing near the town of Postville, Iowa.
SONIA PARRAS: And sure enough, we started tuning into the news, and the raid was happening at that moment.
NEWSCASTER: Federal agents raided this meat-packing plant in Iowa on Monday—
NEWSCASTER: Those agents are executing a criminal search warrant for people illegally in the United States.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The raid would highlight a key question: Should federal authorities treat abused undocumented workers as victims or criminals?
NEWSCASTER: More than 300 people were loaded onto buses and taken away.
LOWELL BERGMAN: The raid would make headlines as the largest immigration roundup in U.S. history at a single site. What was not reported in the media was the extent of the sexual abuse inside the plant.
MARIA LAURA: [subtitles] There were many underage girls working there who went through a lot, 15 and 16-year-olds suffering in that plant. A lot of mistreatment, a lot of work. A lot of shame.
DAVID VASQUEZ, Pastor, Community Activist: Imagine one of these girls working on the killing floor, some of them, you know, utilizing knives and surrounded by other workers with knives.
LAURA ROAN, Asst. Attorney General, IA: Most of the children were working at night. They ran somewhat of a shop of horrors at night. I can think of an interview I did with one of the teenage girls who constantly— several times— repeatedly rebuffed advances from— sexual advances from one of her supervisors.
WOMAN: [subtitles] He was in control because he was the supervisor. He was in charge. He harassed me all the time. He would try to touch me. He would say ugly things to me. I was afraid to lose my job because we needed money to pay back the coyote. We needed to pay our debts. On one occasion, he forced me to do something that I didn’t want to do. Intimate things.
SONIA PARRAS, Immigration Lawyer: We found really, really bad situations just like in DeCoster, with ongoing intense sexual violence.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Over two dozen women and underage girls came forward alleging sexual harassment, assault or rape. But according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, their agents did not ask any of the detainees if they had been victims of abuse.
DAVID VASQUEZ, Pastor, Community Activist: Three hundred of the workers, their stories were never heard. There was no interest in what their story was, whether they had been victimized, whether they had been exploited. Nobody asked them those questions. They only asked them for papers, and that was it. And if they didn’t have them, that defined their entire lives. And then they were processed like criminals and deported.
SONIA PARRAS: We need to have a thorough investigation and ask detainees the right questions about whether or not they have ever been victims of crimes of sexual violence. And the perpetrators were also deported, and they will never be brought to justice.
LOWELL BERGMAN: No criminal charges for sexual violence were ever brought against the alleged perpetrators in Postville, a pattern that has repeated itself across the country.
BILL TAMAYO, Regional Attorney, EEOC: Hundreds of charges by farmworkers have been received nationwide, and they continue to come in all around the country.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] How many criminal charges have resulted from all this?
BILL TAMAYO: I don’t know of any criminal prosecutions that have been put forward in any of these farmworker cases.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Zero, as far as you know.
BILL TAMAYO: Zero, as far as I know, yeah.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Sexual assault cases are difficult to prosecute, and the Justice Department estimates that two thirds are never even reported.
BILL TAMAYO: And this is largely English-speaking women, largely white. Now, in agriculture, the workforce is largely Latina, non-English-speaking, and women who are culturally and geographically isolated. So the chances for them to report are even less.
LOWELL BERGMAN: There are no reliable statistics on sexual violence in the fields, and few reports. One, by Human Rights Watch, concluded that women in the fields face a “significant risk of sexual violence.”
MANUEL CUNHA, President, Nisei Farmers League: I disagree with the report. I disagree with the findings.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Manuel Cunha is one of the few representatives of agribusiness who would talk with us.
MANUEL CUNHA: We know what’s going on in our farms. We’re in the farms. We don’t just sit in our office. We go out actually in the field, train workers, meet with workers. I don’t see a lot of facts. I see in my industry every day, and we don’t see it.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] Is there sexual harassment, violence going on in the agricultural fields here in California?
MANUEL CUNHA: I will respond like this. There is probably harassment going on, not just in agriculture in California but all businesses, state agencies, and even our capitol, OK? Is there some activities going on in the agriculture industry? There probably is.
LOWELL BERGMAN: So is it possible, in your view, that there is a big problem with sexual harassment amongst your workers?
MANUEL CUNHA: No. I can’t say it’s a big problem, no.
DOLORES HUERTA, Co-Founder, United Farm Workers: I believe that the employers are in total denial, and they will often take the word of the foreman or the manager against the woman if she does come forward. And women know this. They know that they’re not going to be heard. They know that nobody’s going to be there to support them or protect them.
[www.pbs.org: More from Dolores Huerta]
LOWELL BERGMAN: You know Dolores Huerta. You know who she is.
MANUEL CUNHA: Yes.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Can I read you something she said?
MANUEL CUNHA: Oh, please. I’d like to hear her comment.
LOWELL BERGMAN: OK. She says that this sexual harassment that we’re talking about is an epidemic in the fields.
MANUEL CUNHA: Dolores Huerta, bring me those cases. Dolores Huerta, go have your UFW go picket the grower if all these cases have been going on. If our growers know there’s a problem, we’re going to deal with it. Why didn’t you go to the grower, and tell me that because, “Well, we were feared for their job and their lives”— no, that’s a poor excuse.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Representatives of agribusiness say to us, “Yes, there’s sexual harassment in our industry, but it’s no different than the rest of America.” And what we find is there are no statistics. So what evidence do you have?
Rep. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), Illinois: The personal testimony of those women that I’ve met with, the tears in their eyes, the anguish in their face, the humiliation.
You can say that my information is simply anecdotal, but when the same information repeats itself? The stories I’ve heard on my travels throughout the United States are the same. And you want to know something? I learned a long time ago that when it comes to these situations, believe the women. Believe the women.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] “Believe the women” is what the jury was being asked to do in the case against Evans Fruit in Yakima, Washington. In the spring of 2013, 14 women would testify, and described multiple incidents of sexual harassment by Evans’s foreman, Juan Marin, and other crew leaders.
[on camera] I’m just going to read to you a couple of things that women said under oath, OK? So Magdalena Alvarez, she says, “He started grabbing me, grabbing my private parts. He started touching my breasts. He put his hands on my legs, and I moved them away and he put them back on my legs.” And then she goes on and on and on. And this is under oath. You know, she’s testifying.
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] Lies.
LOWELL BERGMAN: And similarly—
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] I don’t even know her.
LOWELL BERGMAN: So you don’t know who she is?
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] No, I don’t even know that person.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Aurelia Garcia—
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] I don’t know her.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Cesilia Lua.
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] I don’t know her.
CESILIA LUA: [subtitles] He knows me. I worked with him. He was our foreman. He disrespected me. He sexually harassed me. He knows me. He knows who I am.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Evans Fruit denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the alleged misconduct by Juan Marin.
BRENDAN MONAHAN, Attorney for Evans Fruit: Evans Fruit, the company itself, really doesn’t know what happened. Juan Marin has told a number of different stories.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Brendan Monahan represents Evans Fruit.
BRENDAN MONAHAN: It’s impossible for the company to say what happened in the orchard. But you can’t make these broad assertions that Juan Marin is a bad person and sexual harassment occurred and therefore find the company liable.
LOWELL BERGMAN: After weeks of testimony, the jury unanimously ruled in favor of Evans Fruit, concluding that according to the evidence, none of the women had been subjected to sexual harassment.
[www.pbs.org: More about the trial]
CESILIA LUA: [subtitles] We hoped that we were going to win. We were sure we would because we were telling the truth.
DANELIA BARAJAS: [subtitles] I can see how they might not believe one women, but 14 or 15 women went to court. Not to believe a single one? I told the truth. Juan Marin knows that I told the truth.
BRENDAN MONAHAN, Attorney for Evans Fruit: What the jury concluded was that the women were not credible when they described the events that allegedly happened to them. In many instances, the testimony was in direct conflict with prior testimony that these women had given before. We illustrated those inconsistencies for the jury.
LOWELL BERGMAN: But there were stories the jury never heard. We discovered that Juan Marin had previously been accused of sexually assaulting a female worker.
[on camera] OK, let me show you something. This is from 1993.
JUAN MARIN: Oh, my goodness! I have no idea who this person is.
LOWELL BERGMAN: We did a search of files here in Yakima, and here is a complaint. “Mr. Marin moved his hand up to her left breast, squeezing it.” But you don’t remember this.
JUAN MARIN: No. That never happened.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Never happened. You don’t remember the police coming to talk to you about it?
JUAN MARIN: Because never happened. [subtitles] The problem with these people in the ranch is that if you’re the one in charge and you don’t let them do whatever they want, they’ll all accuse you of something.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] The jury also did not hear Jacqueline’s story, the young woman who first brought the case with her mother. Jacqueline was murdered in an unrelated incident. The judge dropped her from the case, along with her mother, Angela Mendoza.
ANGELA MENDOZA: [subtitles] I am out of the case. It’s like they don’t take into account what happened, happened to her.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] Doesn’t it really start with Angela? She says you were harassing her daughter.
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] That is not true. That’s another lie.
ANGELA MENDOZA: [subtitles] He was grabbing her by the shoulders and grinding on her from behind, grinding his penis against my daughter! I was filled with courage and yelled at Mister Juan, “Hey, Mister Juan, what are you doing? Show some respect if you want to be respected.”
LOWELL BERGMAN: You say that Angela Mendoza misunderstood you.
JUAN MARIN: Of course, because I was not talking to her daughter.
LOWELL BERGMAN: She says that you asked her for her daughter, that you promised to take care of them if her daughter had kids with you.
JUAN MARIN: [subtitles] This is absolutely a lie. I never talked to her about things like that. I was only dedicated to my work.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Is Juan Marin credible?
BRENDAN MONAHAN, Attorney for Evans Fruit: Very good question. Is he credible? On a number of instances, we believe the answer is no.
LOWELL BERGMAN: Do you see how some people would say there was something going on, but they were looking the other way? They left the management, for instance, of the Rattlesnake Ranch in Sunnyside to a man who was possibly deeply flawed.
BRENDAN MONAHAN: I think that there are some elements to that statement that are reasonable. And I think it’s reasonable to say that Evans Fruit trusted Juan Marin, and in retrospect, probably shouldn’t have trusted him to the level that they did.
LOWELL BERGMAN: You’ve said that, in fact, this case has made a big difference here in Washington.
BRENDAN MONAHAN: I think that this case has fundamentally changed the industry. I really do. We’ve done trainings all across the industry so that crew leads, orchard managers, right, foremen, know how to identify sexual harassment, know how to document it, know how to report it.
LOWELL BERGMAN: So what you’re saying is that the EEOC has succeeded.
BRENDAN MONAHAN: I think they have, and I’ve told them that. I told them that before this case went to trial. They’d changed the industry before this case ever went to trial.
LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Evans would institute a sexual harassment policy, even though it is not required in Washington state. In fact, only three states require that supervisors receive sexual harassment training.
As for Danelia Barajas and Cesilia Lua, they are still suing Juan Marin— personally.
DANELIA BARAJAS: [subtitles] We took a risk, and they didn’t believe us. And I don’t regret that. I do not regret that because in other ranches, they’re paying more attention to supervisors. They are going to think twice about disrespecting women. And it was a step we made so that other women could dare to talk.
LOWELL BERGMAN: For many women, fear continues in the fields. Maricruz Ladino was one of the few who had the courage to sue her employer. And after four long years, she settled her lawsuit.
MARICRUZ LADINO: [subtitles] It wasn’t about the money because that does not give you back the integrity you lost as a woman, your self-worth as a woman. I was heard. That’s why I think there was justice. But a part of me died, and no one can give that back to me.
This type of thing did not only happen to me. It was happening to many, many more women. And if I stay quiet, then it is going to keep happening. That’s why I want to talk about it now, so that everybody can see themselves in me, so that they won’t stay quiet anymore. They must react, not with violence but with the laws that protect them. Documented or undocumented, you have to speak.
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY
NEXT ON FRONTLINERape in the FieldsEncore PresentationMarch 18th
FRONTLINE Watch FRONTLINE About FRONTLINE Contact FRONTLINE
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.