UW Bothell professors create sexual harassment prevention toolkit for agricultural workers

The toolkit provides resources and education about sexual harassment, reporting processes, and creating worksite policies compliant with EEOC guidelines.

While the #MeToo movement has shined a light on sexual harassment and exposing celebrities, CEOs and politicians, two University of Washington Bothell (UWB) professors in the School of Nursing & Health Studies have co-led a grassroots effort in Washington state to address the issue in agriculture.

Media figures are not the only ones who have endured pressure and retaliation. Farm workers — mainly women—working in fields, orchards and packing houses experience sexual harassment.

Jody Early, an associate professor, and Victoria Breckwich Vásquez, an affiliate assistant professor, both helped develop ¡Basta! Preventing Sexual Harassment in Agriculture.

Basta means “enough” in Spanish.

¡Basta! is a prevention-focused toolkit tailored for worksite intervention. Developed in partnership with women farmworkers and other agricultural stakeholders, it is based on the farmworkers’ personal experiences.

The program is the result of nearly six years of work that included growers, legal experts, lawmakers, civil rights advocates and more than 70 farmworkers in Washington. It provides a multi-level approach to prevention aimed at three audiences: farmworkers, supervisors and growers. Topics include respect, reporting processes, bystander approaches and creating a worksite policy compliant with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines.

With a background in community health interventions, Breckwich Vásquez worked as an outreach director for the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (PNASH).

While speaking with farmworkers across the state about the use of harmful pesticides, it became clear there were more problems in the field.

“I had so many women tell me about the way they were being treated. They have been harassed, disrespected, beaten, raped and held at gunpoint,” Breckwich Vásquez said. “If women don’t feel comfortable going to work in the first place, why would they care about pesticides?”

She said women make up as much as one third of Washington’s farm workforce, and it’s estimated that more than three quarters of them have experienced sexual harassment on the job. The scope of the problem is hard to quantify, however, given that so many incidents go unreported.

Breckwich Vásquez said many of the women don’t know how to report sexual harassment, much less how to get a lawyer.

When supervisors or other farmworkers make unwelcome sexual comments or direct other conduct of a sexual nature, many women don’t know they have rights to be protected, she said. If they complain, they may be threatened with retaliation or fired — especially if they’re undocumented immigrants.

Last year, the owner of an onion-packing business in Quincy paid $525,000 to settle a sexual harassment civil rights lawsuit. The state attorney general’s office filed the suit on behalf of 10 women who worked in the onion-sorting area. They had been touched and groped by a foreman, and one of the women who complained had been forced to leave her job.

“We are convinced that this should be seen as a worksite safety issue by the industry,” Breckwich Vásquez said in a release. “Unless we are able to have some impact on improving the safety and security of workers from sexual harassment, any occupational health outreach and programs would be largely ineffective.”

Many growers recognize the need to address the problem for both reasons of justice and economics.

“There is already a large demand for the kind of training ¡Basta! provides,” Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, said in a release.

The need for a solution became bigger as more women came forward.

Breckwich Vásquez asked Early to help develop the ¡Basta! toolkit. Early created the curriculum and Breckwich Vásquez addressed the policy-level issues.

The curriculum includes a guide, a video, wallet cards, posters and other resources. The entire toolkit is available in Spanish and English.

The project trailer provides an overview of the issue from the perspective of various stakeholders and farm workers share some of their experiences with workplace sexual harassment. Breckwich Vásquez and Early used real stories from farm workers for the video, as well as had the workers assist in writing the script.

The wallet cards are a pocket-sized resource for farmworkers with information on their rights and key resources. This resource can be adapted to include resources from other regions or states.

The Spanish-language radionovela on sexual harassment prevention, developed in collaboration with NCEC/Radio KDNA, follows the story of a female farmworker encountering sexual harassment and includes tips on identifying, preventing, and reporting the harassment.

Early said while education alone will not stop sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence, creating a safer workplace and a climate of respect is an important starting point for systems-level change.

The video, guide, posters, wallet cards and other resources are available to the public at minimum cost through the PNASH Center.

Early said the hope is for every farm to implement this training and curriculum as soon as possible. She also said there will be a “train the trainer” curriculum available for those wanting to use the toolkit starting in January.

Breckwich Vásquez and Early said it’s been a privilege to develop this project.

“This isn’t our project,” Breckwich Vásquez said. “It’s a privilege to create something to change things.”

While education about sexual harassment is an important starting point, Early said an ongoing and comprehensive effort is necessary to address the individual, organizational and cultural factors that create the problem.

The Washington Coalition to Eliminate Farmworker Sexual Harassment is working for a change in state policy to make prevention training a requirement. Beyond training, Early and Breckwich Vásquez hope ¡Basta! becomes part of a movement in sexual harassment prevention.

To learn more about ¡Basta! Preventing Sexual Harassment in Agriculture, visit tinyurl.com/t683nnq.

Victoria Breckwich Vásquez and Jody Early on the set of the ¡Basta! video with the film crew and farmworkers. Courtesy photo

Victoria Breckwich Vásquez and Jody Early on the set of the ¡Basta! video with the film crew and farmworkers. Courtesy photo