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Federal officials have filed a lawsuit alleging that Mexican women who worked as egg packers were raped by supervisors who threatened to have them fired or killed if they didn’t submit. The lawsuit filed Monday by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accuses three former DeCoster Farms supervisors of raping the women last year and this past March. At least one alleged rape occurred at knifepoint. “We don’t know how widespread this is,” said Chester Bailey, director of the EEOC office in Milwaukee. “People are fearful of their lives and their families’ lives.” No criminal charges have been filed against the supervisors, who worked at four DeCoster Farms facilities near Clarion, 80 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa. An attorney for the company, William Sidney Smith, said DeCoster had not known of the rape allegations until the lawsuit was filed. He said two of the supervisors were fired after it was alleged they were taking money from people seeking jobs with DeCoster Farms. He said the third left earlier. Smith said the company supported the prosecution of the men “if they in any way participated in or supported such conduct.” About 200 people work at DeCoster egg farms and processing plants in the Clarion, Iowa area, Smith said. Most are Hispanic and many are believed to be illegal immigrants. Federal agents raided DeCoster Farms and nearby Boomsma Farms last spring, arresting more than 90 illegal workers. The number of women who made the allegations of rape and sexual harassment wasn’t specified. The Coalition Against Sexual Assault in Iowa City said some were so afraid that they sought refuge in domestic abuse shelters. Bailey called it a terrifying situation. “They’re vulnerable if they’re illegal, they don’t speak the language very well, they don’t have an avenue (to complain),” he said. “The rape is terrifying, but where do they go? “In one case, the woman was so ashamed, she didn’t tell her family. She took her clothes and just threw them away,” he said. Wright County, Iowa Sheriff Paul Schultz said it was the first time he had heard of the allegations. He said the top concern was determining whether there was criminal activity, not residency status. “We don’t turn a blind eye to someone, anyone, if they are here illegally,” he said. In Clarion, Angel Chavez said he worked at an egg farm when he arrived in town a year ago but prefers the Mexican grocery where he works now. “We are scared of the place,” he said of the farm, explaining it was mostly because of illegal immigrants. “This, with the girls, is very difficult to understand.” The lawsuit names DeCoster Farms, owner, Austin DeCoster and Iowa Ag-Construction Co., which hired workers for the farms. It seeks an injunction requiring employers to cease any illegal activity and ensure safe and fair working conditions. Bailey said the EEOC and DeCoster Farms are nearing a potential agreement to allay the fears of female employees. “They’re going to stop any form of harassment and will put out a harassment policy,” he said Wednesday. “They will meet with management to say, ‘This must stop.”’ Sandra Sanchez, immigrant rights project director for the American Friends Service Committee, described rape allegations as “prevalent” from Mexican women who work at egg farms in Clarion and nearby Eagle Grove, Iowa. “In many instances, the supervisors were also Latino,” she said. “They know very well the cultural nuances that can be used to effectively intimidate these women.” Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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