For the women of Iowa’s agricultural industry – the farm workers and meat packing plant employees – sexual assault is an all too-common but silent burden.
Many of those women are immigrants who may fear losing their jobs or being deportated if they speak up.
“Many of the workers don’t come forward because they have a fear of losing everything,” said Mary Perdomo, education coordinator at the Rape Victim Advocacy Center, an Iowa City-based organization that provides services and counseling for sexual assault survivors. “If they are deported, they may lose their whole life.”
In 2009, legal research and advocacy group ASISTA surveyed more than 100 female employees of Iowa meatpacking plants. The Center for Investigative Reporting published an analysis of those surveys, reporting 41 percent said they’d experienced unwanted touching, 30 percent reported receiving sexual propositions and over 25 percent said they’d been threatened with repercussions if they didn’t agree to propositions.
“I think that everywhere there is a farm, this can happen. It can happen to anyone, even at an office,” Perdomo said. “Sometimes it is just the power and control. It is just having to be under the control of someone else.”
To raise awareness about the issue, the Rape Victim Advocacy Center is hosting The Bandana Project this Friday. Survivors and their supporters are invited to decorate bandanas to raise awareness of violence against agricultural workers. The finished bandanas will be displayed on the University of Iowa campus during Sexual Assault Awareness month in April.
The project is similar to The Clothesline Project the center has hosted in past years, for which survivors decorate t-shirts. The bandanas and the t-shirts may be displayed together this year.
“We have victims that come here from different cultural backgrounds,” Perdomo said. “I feel like the Hispanic community is basically being a little left out. I wanted to do some projects that involved their own healing and their own experiences.”
She emphasized immigrants who are the victims of some crimes, including sexual assault, can apply for a U-visa. The Rape Victim Advocacy Center can help connect immigrants with services related to their legal rights and options, as well as counseling and support.
“We do want other cultures to know they can receive services from our organization, that they can come here and be welcome,” she said. “There are options for them. They are not alone.”
Learn more at RVAP.org or by calling their business line at (319) 335-6001. The RVAP crisis line, (319) 335-6000, is staffed 24 hours a day.
What: Survivors and their supporters are invited to decorate bandanas to raise awareness of violence against agricultural workers.
Where: Meeting room A, Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.
When: Feb. 7, 5 to 7 p.m.