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By Lily Dayton

In the foothills of the Pajaro Valley, dozens of nursery workers dressed in jeans and work boots file into a warehouse. It’s just past lunchtime on a weekday. Normally the workers would be heading back to the white-tented greenhouses to tend to the broccoli, chard and kale shoots that grow from nursery flats, but today they are attending the final presentation of Speedling Incorporated’s Safety Week, a workshop on sexual harassment and assault.

“Today we are going to talk about a topic that is taboo in many cultures,” Maria Barranco says in Spanish. Barranco is the prevention program manager of Monarch Services, a domestic and sexual violence prevention agency in Santa Cruz County.

Most of the 45 employees in attendance are men, ranging in age from just barely adult to grizzled middle age. But several women sit among the group. Everyone is engaged, listening intently to Barranco and four prevention specialists—all dressed in matching black shirts with a “Campos Seguros” (Spanish for “safe fields”) logo on the front. On their backs, the shirts read “Lives free from violence and abuse.”

When Barranco asks, “Does anyone know what sexual harassment is?” several workers raise their hands. One man says, “It’s when you touch someone or talk to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.”

This workshop is a field test of the format that Monarch’s Campos Seguros program is currently using to develop a nine-week series to educate agricultural workers about sexual violence prevention. The workshop series will pilot in the fall, and there will be separate programs for men, women and children.

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By Lily Dayton

Salinas resident Maricruz Ladino was all too familiar with harassing comments and sexual innuendos tossed around by her co-workers and supervisors while working for over a decade in the agricultural industry. But when she started a job at a Salinas lettuce packing plant in 2005, the harassment escalated. Her supervisor began making sexual advances, she says, insinuating that if she didn’t succumb to his sexual demands he would fire her. Then, one day the supervisor drove her to an isolated field—supposedly to inspect the crops. Instead, Ladino says, he raped her.

“I kept quiet for a long time,” she says in Spanish, explaining how she was afraid to speak out—afraid her supervisor might hurt her more, afraid no one would believe her, afraid of losing her job. As a single mother raising three young daughters on her own, she desperately needed the income to survive. But the abuse continued until she couldn’t take it anymore.

“Finally I said, ‘No más,’” she says, her gaze unfaltering. “I had to speak because, even though I might die, he was going to pay for what he was doing to me.”

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