By correspondent Lowell Bergman and partners the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, FRONTLINE, and Univision.

Entire documentary can be viewed online.


Rape in the Fields investigates the price migrant women must pay in order to put food on our tables. With the threat of losing their jobs and fear of deportation, many choose to stay quiet. Those who share their stories reveal ongoing sexual harassment and rape in the fields and packing plants where they work.

  • Expose to the public sphere the numerous sexual crimes that migrant women face while handling the food we eat.
  • Influence public policy change in order to protect the rights of farmworkers from sexual abuse.

Why It’s a Shovel

In order to reveal the reality of sexual harassment and assault migrant women face while working on farms, the producers of Rape in the Fields established close relationships to their sources. First-hand interviews and in-depth analysis of various cases bring audience members closer to the stories of women who have been silenced. By revealing these truths, the documentary provides an opportunity for their rights and search for justice to be publicly validated.

Rape in the Fields is the result of dedicated investigation by the journalists at the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. As a Shovel unearths previously invisible truths, the documentary sheds a light on the ongoing sexual abuses female immigrants too often face while working in the agricultural industry that feeds American homes. Through relationships gradually built with the communities, the project acts as the driving force for previously unheard stories to emerge.

The Campaign

Rape in the Fields optimized its strength as Shovel through multiple platforms, reaching influentials, public television audiences, and direct stakeholders. It first aired on FRONTLINE to an audience of more than 3.3 million viewers, fulfilling its mission to catapult hidden injustices into the public sphere. This exposure was accompanied by an essay from CIR’s reporter Bernice Yeung distributed to seven daily newspapers, including those serving large agricultural hubs such as Modesto, California. A version of this text appeared in Spanish on the Univision website and was adapted by CIR into a ten-minute animation called “Hidden in the Fields” shared online. CIR and PBS followed up on the release of the film with several additional articles. Full-length, data-rich reviews in the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, USA Today, and others; and active social media outreach exposed more than seven million people to content directly referencing the documentary. It is also available to watch in its entirety on the Center for Investigative Reporting’s website.

The documentary was featured in a four-part series by “The California Report,” a public radio program produced by the San Francisco National Public Radio affiliate KQED, as well as in segments produced by Radio Bilingue and NPR’s The Takeaway.

Outreach was conducted towards and alongside the public, policymakers, and agricultural communities to ensure that the stories were heard by those who could make a change. Notably, after the broadcast and online release of the film, Center for Investigative Reporting produced a “Solutions Summit,” which brought together law enforcement, advocates, growers, and lawmakers to brainstorm ideas to end the sexual abuse of farmworkers. Ultimately, Rape in the Fields can be defined as a project that goes beyond the documentary itself and encompasses several in-depth essays, dedicated research, social media interactions, and well-formed relationships with stakeholder communities; key building blocks for meaningful impact.


Since the project’s public release, Rape in the Fields has been at the forefront of dialogue to further investigate the sexual crimes migrant women must endure in the agricultural industry. The project was recognized with the Robert F. Kennedy Center’s top journalism award.

Local community screenings included over 100 gatherings initiated and organized by communities outside of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s network. Many screenings were held in agricultural communities such as Monterey, California where the film is set, establishing strong networks of people who could advocate for direct change. Support organizations such as Monarch Services in Santa Cruz County have been able to use the film to reach out to workers who have experienced or witnessed abuse and provide needed services to them.

In September 2014, a bill requiring sexual harassment prevention training for all farmworkers, including farm owners and supervisors, was signed into law by the California legislature and governor. The legislation is the result of investigation and outreach conducted in Rape in the Fields. Educational programs about sexual harassment have expanded in partnership with the California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and the film is continued to be screened by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and community groups to raise awareness on the issue. Although dozens of lawsuits filed by victims have failed to prosecute their attackers, the Center for Investigative Reporting finds optimistic movement by law enforcement and courts to take more seriously the crimes perpetrated against migrant women.

Interaction with the film extended into public discourse on social media in both English and Spanish. As of January 2015, hundreds of tweets on Twitter have reacted to the documentary and the film’s Facebook page has over 100,000 likes. Over a year after its release, the film continues to inspire very active social media participation and reactions. Researchers at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington have designed projects to collect data on who in the agricultural community are being affected by sexual harassment to guide further support and targeted outreach. In follow up conversations, the Center for Investigative Research has received feedback that the project has become a source of healing and pride for Maricruz Ladino, one of the women featured in the film, and kickstarted an ongoing conversation for justice and change for many others.


Though it is difficult to quantify the documentary’s total impact, CIR’s work in analyzing its campaign on Rape in the Fields pioneer exemplary high stakes, impact-oriented investigative reporting. Their in-depth impact report defines three main types of outcomes: macro outcomes that result in structural, legislative changes; meso outcomes that produce shifts in public discourse; and micro outcomes that occur on the individual narrative level, whether through increased knowledge or change in behavior and attitude. CIR has maintained consistent follow up and tracked outcomes over time and within each stakeholder community, and their exemplary efforts to ensure justice have resulted in laud-worthy impact on every level.