21st Century Slavery in Sicily

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Threatened with violence, and blackmailed with sexual encounters for job security, Romanian women are facing relentless abuse on Sicilian farms, Annie Kelly and Lorenzo Tondo reported in the Guardian in March 2017. In an effort to escape the bleak reality of extreme poverty in their home country, these women are consciously deciding to expose themselves to such abuse in order to provide for their children and families. In exchange for a wage three times less than what’s required by Italian law, Romanian women are subjected to harsh working conditions, provided dilapidated and unsanitary living arrangements, and risk sexual abuse and exploitation by their employers.

Local police estimate that up to 7,500 women, the majority of whom are Romanian, are living in slavery on farms across the Ragusa region.

Farm and greenhouse owners continue to take advantage of these women’s grim circumstances in order to profit from their produce, while facing little to no repercussions from their actions. While the unfair wages can be attributed to a failure in European Commission policies, the sexual abuse has no justification. Although the physical violence, extensive work days, and continuous rapes are seemingly intolerable, these women feel as though they have no other option. In a life with such scarce opportunities, in which sexual abuse is an unavoidable and fundamental sacrifice for a job, the alternative of unemployment seems far worse.

While coming forward with their experiences, or fleeing these conditions may seem like an alternative, these options do not come without consequences for these women. For those who have come forward about the abuse they’ve experienced, little to no action has been taken as too many economic interests are served by this inhumane business model, and those coming forward have been unable to find work elsewhere. With talk of the reality coming forward, all other farm and greenhouse owners refuse to employ women who have spoken out against their abusers, for fear they may become the next attacker to be outed. Without employment, these women face the possibility of losing custody of their children for failing to provide their most basic needs for survival. With an imperative income taking priority over basic human rights for Romanian women, there is little proof and testimonies to take drastic action against abusers. While outsiders such as clinic workers are able to see evidence of abuse such as the connection between soaring abortions sought out by Romanian women, brought by Italian men, the lack of direct proof does little for working towards justice. Local politicians are working towards providing resources for Romanian women fleeing their employers, but unfortunately the victims far outweigh the services available.

As of March 12, 2017 there has been zero corporate media coverage of the injustice taking place on Silician farms, and Romanian women continue to suffer at the hands of their violent employers.

Source: Annie Kelly and Lorenzo Tondo. “Raped, Beaten, Exploited: the 21st-century slavery propping up Sicilian farming,” Guardian, March 11, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/mar/12/slavery-sicily-farming-raped-beaten-exploited-romanian-women.

Student Researchers: Sam Barrientos (College of Western Idaho) and Chris Bellot (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluators: Michelle Mahoney (College of Western Idaho) and Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)