BY CHRIS KERR | June 27, 2013
As a naive undergraduate student I made my first visit to Immokalee, Florida, in 1997. Little did I know I would encounter an epicenter of modern day slavery in that migrant farming town just 45 minutes from well-known vacation hot spots like Naples and Fort Myers. During what became the first of many visits, I encountered male and female farm workers with harrowing stories of struggle and marginalization as they tried to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Some spoke about being taken across the border by a coyote, others shared experiences of mistreatment and abuse by employers, and more than once I visited the home of a migrant family and viewed firsthand the deplorable conditions they endured day-to-day.
Univision and PBS have produced “Rape in the Fields,” a 51-minute documentary examining three landmark cases against companies accused of condoning the abuse of female agricultural workers. The accusations of woman plaintiffs ranged from verbal harassment to rape. In some of the cases, women were awarded damages for the abuse they experienced and in others their pleas for justice went unheard. According to a USA Today article about the documentary, an estimated 560,000 women work in the U.S. agricultural industry. They face the fear of demotion, termination, further harassment, and deportation (if undocumented) for reporting abuse.
While the documentary focuses on the overall problems of harassment and abuse, a number of media sources have offered additional interviews in connection with the film. Highlighted are several efforts to develop solutions to the agricultural industry abuse crisis including an interview with Andres Cediel of the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s Fair Food Program.
“Rape in the Fields” is a reminder of the important role that the rights of workers and the situation of those most marginalized by current policy, often women, must be at the core of a humane reform.
“Rape in the Fields” VIDEO:
Additional interviews can be found here.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.