Women working on Florida's farms, most of them undocumented immigrants, are constantly exposed to sexual harassment, workers' rights activists said.

The typical migrant farmworker is a young woman from Latin America, with most coming from Mexico and Central America, who is in the United States illegally and single, but many of them are married and have children, a factor that makes many sexual harassment victims feel shame and guilt.

Many of these women keep silent about the harassment because they are afraid of losing their jobs or being deported.

A recent survey by Florida International University and the community group We Count! found that 24 percent of respondents reported sexual harassment at some time in the workplace, Levis Torres, We Count! labor rights coordinator, told Efe.

The survey found that "one in every four women has been sexually harassed," Torres said, adding that this was the case both for female workers in the ornamental plant nurseries in Homestead, a city south of Miami, and in other agricultural activities.

The victims are the most vulnerable and defenseless women, with undocumented workers always "afraid to report (harassment) because they live in fear of deportation," Torres said.

Sexual assaults happen in both the fields and packing houses, Torres said.

The macho culture pervasive among immigrant families is an additional obstacle for victims, "who find themselves between a rock and a hard place," Torres said.

A woman faces the dilemma of telling or not telling her partner about sexual harassment or workplace assaults, fearing the man might get angry and accuse her of teasing the boss or supervisor, who are often the ones harassing female workers.

"They are afraid to talk about harassment with their husbands since they might think the woman is the one who is flirting" with the harasser, whose actions can range from "verbal harassment to groping and rape," Torres said.

In many cases, the problem is silenced and the sexual harassment becomes a taboo subject that women do not talk about, accepting it with painful resignation.

Many cases end up in private settlements to silence victims, who receive money and "sign a contract that requires them to not talk about it," Torres said.

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