The stories of the more than 800,000 men, women, and children working in California’s fields—one third of the nation’s agricultural work force—are rarely heard. The new book Chasing the Harvest compiles the oral histories of some of these farmworkers. Longreads is proud to publish this excerpt about Maricruz Ladino, who shared her story with journalist Gabriel Thompson.
Occupation: Produce Truck Driver
Born in: Sonora, Mexico
Interviewed in: Salinas, Monterey County
Agricultural region: Salinas Valley
Sexual harassment and violence in agriculture is both widespread and underreported. For years, the everyday threats and assaults faced by female farmworkers was a story that mostly stayed in the fields. In the past decade, however, a number of investigations—made possible by the bravery of women who have come forward—have uncovered a human rights crisis. In 2010, UC Santa Cruz published a study based on interviews with 150 female farmworkers in California. Nearly 40 percent reported that they had experienced sexual harassment, often from their supervisors; this harassment ranged from unwanted verbal advances to rape. Two years later, Human Rights Watch published a report, “Cultivating Fear,” based on interviews with more than fifty farmworkers across the country, which concluded that the persistent harassment and violence faced by women in the fields was “fostered by a severe imbalance of power” between undocumented farmworkers and their supervisors.
Maricruz Ladino knows all about that imbalance of power. “A supervisor can get you fired with the snap of his fingers,” she tells me. And so she stayed quiet, putting up with her supervisor’s daily harassment—and later, violent sexual assault—in order to hang on to her job at a lettuce packing plant in Salinas. Then came the day she gathered the courage to walk into the company’s office and file a complaint. She feared the worst: she could lose her job, or be deported. Both came to pass. But she has never regretted her decision.
We meet at a vegetable cooling plant in early October, where Maricruz welcomes me aboard her truck, which is carrying pallets of iceberg lettuce eventually destined for Honolulu. While she waits for more produce to be loaded, she talks about growing up on the border, her intense drive to always keep moving forward, and why she eventually broke the silence about the abuse she suffered. Read more…
Being a woman was helpful. I say that with caution, because some of the most revealing and sensitive stories on rape have been done by my male colleagues: Jeffrey Gettleman on male rape in eastern Congo and Adam Nossiter on the rapes inside of a soccer stadium in Guinea, for example. Both stories put important issues on the map. But I could get these girls to open up by telling them, Somebody very close to me, in my own family, was gang-raped as a teenager. I was raised with her story. I’d tell them they should not suffer any shame for what happened to them. It was not their fault. I tried to make it clear to them that what they’re about to describe is something quite personal to me, given my family’s history, and I do not come at this with some morose curiosity.
Callimachi also discusses her process as a writer.
I tend to fight. I think I’ve been a pain in the butt for some editors. Because writing is so hard for me, when I find a formulation that I love — moments of inspiration usually happen when I’m going on a run; I’ll have an ah ha! moment — it’s painful when editors cut that very thing. I know that the editing is obviously a very important step in what we do. It’s why The New York Times is what it is. So I am trying my best to push less and to be less attached to the specific phrasing.
I don’t editorialize. Sometimes people ask why I don’t condemn ISIS. Why don’t I say this is terrible? I’m like, Are you kidding me? Why would I need to say that, when it is so transparently terrible, right? It’s so obviously horrible and what do I, Rukmini, this writer from America, have to add by saying, This is awful? I think that gets in the way of the narrative.
At Cosmopolitan, Jillian Keenan reports on Dinisha Ball’s nightmare experience of being denied rape kits in more than one ER, for both legally invalid and “valid” reasons, after being drugged and sexually assaulted in Houston. By the time she was given one, it was shoddy, and too many hours had passed for evidence of the drugging to remain in her blood. Unfortunately, Ball is hardly alone. Not all hospitals are legally compelled to perform them, and very few have trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).
It’s hard enough for sexual assault survivors to report a rape at all: Only 15.8 to 35 percent of survivors do, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. (Rape is so woefully underreported that exact statistics are impossible to come by.) And while the rape kit backlog has been well reported — the hundreds of thousands of untested kits sitting in police departments nationwide — what’s lesser-known is that getting a rape kit is not as simple as heading to the nearest emergency room. Once there, survivors are often faced with compounding obstacles to care, from the lack of emergency personnel trained to accurately perform rape kits, to buck-passing between insurers and hospitals around who is billed for that care, to loophole-filled state and federal laws that are often murky and unclear even to legal experts.
In 1997, at almost 32, I took a trip, alone, to Istanbul. Before I left, a male acquaintance suggested it was naive of me to think I’d be safe traveling in that part of the world–or anywhere, really–by myself. There was a condescension in his tone that annoyed me when he said it, but incited rage in me later when I found myself being groped in broad daylight by two young men as I crossed the Galata Bridge on foot. I was angry at my acquaintance for being right, angrier at the men who grabbed me for feeling entitled to do so, but also angry with myself for being so bold–my only regrettable anger of the three. In the New Yorker, memoirist Mary Karr recounts a recent, similar casual sexual assault by a “crotchgrabber” on a street in Manhattan.
Underlying all these actions exists the apparently unshakable tenet that any expression of male sexuality is somehow normal and every man’s right, whether or not a woman on the receiving end is repulsed or upset by it. All of us—male and female—envision all manner of erotic encounters without acting them out. But many of my male friends brush aside the behaviors that women find truly scary, the kind we know from experience can be the prelude to a nasty or even dangerous run-in. And something in the repetition of these behaviors—and in the culture’s blindness to the insult—wires itself into your body fibers and instills a debilitating sense that you’re not quite safe walking around.
When I am fourteen my classmate’s mother is killed by her boyfriend. He stabs her to death. In the newspaper they call it a crime of passion. When she comes back to school, she doesn’t talk about it. When she does mention her mother it’s always in the present tense – “my mom says” or “my mom thinks” – as if she is still alive. She transfers to another school the next year because her father lives in a different school district.
Passion. As if murder is the same thing as spreading rose petals on your bed or eating dinner by candlelight or kissing through the credits of a movie.
– Anne Thériault, on The Belle Jar, traces a lifetime of gendered violence, assault, harassment, and threats starting at age six in this brutal but important read.
A late-night encounter with a drunken classmate is at the beginning of many college sexual assault stories. But in the one Gracie Ryan tells, the woman—a third-degree taekwondo black belt—feels uncomfortable, gets up, and leaves. “Even if a girl is scared to death,” she tells Ryan, “if she walks into a room tall and confident, it’s like, don’t fuck with me.” Ryan’s article checks in on the progress of various sexual assault prevention programs offered at the University of Montana following federal investigations into mishandling of reports of sexual violence in 2012. Students formed self-defense classes. The university requires students living in dorms to undergo bystander-intervention training. Ryan checks in on each program and pairs text and photos to chronicle a university and its students trying lots of different ways, with varying success, to solve a problem that plagues too many campuses.
This week, Wesleyan University administrators banned social events at a fraternity through the end of 2015. This rule came some months after the school decreed that all recognized fraternities must become co-educational within the next three years. Wesleyan administrators say they are acting in an effort to reduce the number of campus sexual assaults: “any campus-based organization that has sponsored events that create conditions with a higher risk of violence, including sexual assault, also will be held accountable.”
In an essay he wrote about leaving his fraternity, Wesleyan University senior Scott Ellman considered his school’s sexualized culture and his own discomfort within it: “I’d only recently begun to consider my complicity as a fraternity brother in the greater context of sexual violence in the American higher education system and how its corresponding language is deployed on college campuses across the country.”
Three girls are smoking on the back porch of their high school dorm. It’s near midnight on a Saturday in early autumn, the leaves not yet fallen, the darkness thick. A man steps out of the woods. He is wearing a black ski mask, a hooded jacket, leather gloves. He has a gun. He tells the girls to follow him, that if they make a noise or run he’ll shoot. He makes them lie face down on the ground. He rapes first one and then the others. He walks away. Read more…
UCLA’s Daily Bruin published a comprehensive package about sexual assault on campus just days after the White House released a report outlining procedural guidelines for colleges to follow when dealing with such cases. In her thorough story about UCLA’s policies and procedures, Kate Parkinson-Morgan explains the intricacies of Title IX, the Clery Act, and other legislation that governs a college’s response to sexual crimes. But what makes the journalism so searing is Parkinson-Morgan’s delicate, angering chronicles of six survivors’ stories. The Daily Bruin also gave space for four women to tell their story in their own words. Parkinson-Morgan earned her subjects’ trust. In return she gave them the power of their own story.
"Patrick Henry College is not alone in internally adjudicating sexual assault. Every college and university maintains its own shadow legal system—and many secular colleges have a terrible track record of investigating and punishing sexual assault. But Patrick Henry College is one of only four private colleges in the United States that eschews federal funds in order to avoid complying with government regulations. This poses financial hardships for students and their families—PHC students are prohibited from accessing FAFSA loans, Pell Grants, state funds, scholarships, or the G.I. Bill—and it makes the institution particularly dependent on its conservative evangelical donor base. Homeschoolers see this as a worthwhile price to pay for freedom from government intrusion. The financial-aid page on PHC’s website notes, “In order to safeguard our distinctly Christian worldview, we do not accept or participate in government funding.”
This also means PHC isn’t subject to the Clery Act, Title IX, or the more recent Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. The Clery Act requires schools to issue campus crime reports. Title IX says schools must hold an investigation independent of a criminal investigation and ensure that victims can change dorms and class arrangements, get campus restraining orders, and receive help filing a police report if they choose to do so. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act mandates that schools have prompt disciplinary proceedings and inform victims of their rights and options under Title IX. These regulations are no guarantee that sexual-assault accusations will be handled properly, and students at dozens of schools have recently filed Title IX and Clery Act complaints with the Department of Education that document widespread victim-blaming, mishandling of reports, and impunity for perpetrators. Yet, PHC students lack even that legal recourse. (The school says it tries to “generally follow the principles of those laws,” but it is not legally bound to comply with them.)
“As a private campus, it’s outside of federal influence. They can do whatever they want,” says Brett Sokolow, an attorney and president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management. “If you’re a female student, and you elect to enroll at a campus that does not provide any of the federal protections that attach to other colleges and universities, you need to know that going in.”