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Workplace Sexual Harassment Among Farmworkers: A Mixed-Methods Sequential Exploratory Design

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This study evaluated workplace sexual harassment (WSH) in agriculture among men and women farmworkers in California, United States, and Michoacán, Mexico. Four focus groups (two in California with 10 men and 10 women and two in Michoacán with 8 men and 5 women) and 197 farmworker surveys (38 men and 59 women in California; 40 men and 60 women in Michoacán) were conducted. Focus group themes related to the experience of, responses to, and farmworkers’ recommendations for prevention of WSH. Although men and women faced WSH, women’s experiences were more severe and frequent. Although farmworkers tried to resolve WSH on their own, with co-workers, with family, and with leadership, they faced significant barriers that silenced victims and allowed WSH to persist. All farmworkers recommended that management set a good example and enforce consequences for offenders. Survey participants were aged 23-54 years old. Most farmworkers spoke Spanish, and Purhépecha was spoken only in Michoacán. Sixty-eight percent were married, 80% had children, and 47% had less than 7 years of education. Direct inquiry-based (asking ‘Have you ever been the victim of or bystander to workplace sexual harassment?’) and behavior-based questioning (using explicit examples of workplace sexual harassment behaviors perpetrated against participant or witnessed by participant as bystander) revealed that many men and women farmworkers from California and Michoacán experienced WSH in the previous year. Women farmworkers in California reported equal or greater frequency of WSH experiences than men. Reported WSH experiences between men and women in Michoacán were similar. All farmworkers identified perpetrators at the leadership and coworker level. Respondents shared that the frequency of certain exposures ranged from weekly, monthly, to multiple times a year. Few perpetrators faced consequences. Of 42 direct inquiry-based WSH experiences reported, only one perpetrator was punished, and at least half of all victims lost their jobs. Survey items related to WSH myth acceptance, WSH beliefs, and WSH vignette discomfort revealed that most of Michoacán farmworkers were equally discomforted by WSH scenarios and accepting of WSH myths. California women farmworkers reported more discomfort than California men, but were comparable to men in their WSH myth acceptance. Belief that no one would help victims was significantly greater among women than men, and over 85% of all farmworkers agreed that “Something must be done to prevent WSH in Agriculture.” Demographic and occupational factor models built using survey data revealed significant positive correlations between speaking an indigenous language and experiencing WSH. Significant negative correlations were found between greater age and experiencing WSH. Younger age and country of work being Mexico were significantly associated with WSH in logistic regression. Younger workers, those who worked in Mexico, and those who predominantly spoke Spanish or Purhépecha were more vulnerable to WSH than their counterparts. These findings offer qualitative and quantitative support that WSH persists, is frequent, and impacts both men and women farmworkers in agriculture. These findings also show certain characteristics can increase the risk of a farmworker experiencing WSH in agriculture. The information gained helps inform educational materials and policy recommendations for the response and prevention of WSH in agriculture. Study findings will support the agricultural community, educators, researchers, and organizations working to prevent and respond to WSH.

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This item is under embargo until August 10, 2023.