Thousands of Romanian women working in agriculture in Ragusa Province in Italy are victims are numerous abuses, including sexual aggressions and threats, The Observer reports.
“Hidden among fields of flapping white plastic tents across Ragusa province, 5,000 Romanian women are working as seasonal agricultural workers. Their treatment is a growing human rights scandal, being perpetrated with almost complete impunity,” the British journalists say.
An Italian migrant rights organisation, the Proxyma Association, estimates that more than half of all Romanian women working in the greenhouses are forced into sexual relations with their employers. Almost all of them work in conditions of forced labour and severe exploitation.
Police suspect that up to 7,500 women, the majority of whom are Romanian, are living in slavery on farms across the region. Guido Volpe, a commander in the carabinieri military police in Sicily, told the Observer that Ragusa was the centre of exploitation on the island.
“These women are working as slaves in the fields and we know they are blackmailed to have sex with the owners of the farms or greenhouses because of their psychological subjugation,” he says. “It is not easy to investigate or stop this from happening, as the women are mostly too afraid to speak out.”
Many of the Romanian women leave children and dependent families at home and feel forced into making the desperate choices.
The Observer spoke to 10 Romanian women working on farms in Ragusa. All detailed routine sexual assault and exploitation, including working 12-hour days in extreme heat with no water, non-payment of wages and being forced to live in degrading and unsanitary conditions in isolated outbuildings. Their working days often include physical violence, being threatened with weapons and being blackmailed with threats to their children and family.
One of the victims, Nicoleta Boros recounted to the British journalists about the hell that she was going through while working in Ragusa, the humiliation of being forced to have sex with the employer.
“The first time, it was my husband who said I had to do this. That the owner of the greenhouse where we had been given work wanted to sleep with me and if we refused he wouldn’t pay us and would send us off his land,” she says.
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