New Report Exposes Rape, Sex Trafficking, Disappearances of NorCal Pot Farm Workers

New Report Exposes Rape, Sex Trafficking, Disappearances of NorCal Pot Farm Workers

By Paul Gaita 09/21/16

Last year, 352 people were reported missing in Humboldt County, one of the largest marijuana-growing counties in the US.

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New Report Exposes Rape, Sex Trafficking, Disappearances of NorCal Pot Farm Workers

A new report has compiled numerous accounts of sexual abuse and assault of workers at marijuana farms throughout Northern California, as well as the disappearance of more than 300 workers in 2015 alone.

The report, conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), a non-profit organization for investigative journalism, compiled stories from women working as bud trimmers, or “trimmigrants,” who have been subjected to sexual harassment and assault while working for growers on pot farms throughout the cannabis-growing counties of Northern California known as the “Emerald Triangle.” 

Students from Humboldt State University reported that they were coerced into sex with their bosses in order to receive payment for their work, while others said that they were encouraged to work topless in order to receive higher wages.

"Women believe they are getting hired for trimming work, and then they’re drugged and raped,” said Maryann Hayes Mariani, coordinator for the North Coast Rape Crisis Team. “Everybody looks at the region like it’s the Land of Oz. I’m just so tired of pretending like it’s not happening here.”

Trimmigrants have also reported that sex workers frequent the area to service the predominately male growers and laborers. These and other incidents go largely unreported or investigated by police. Workers often do not report cases of assault out of fear of losing work or drawing law enforcement to their grows.

Sex trafficking in the region is focused on the workers themselves, not on the individuals, and most counties have neither the time nor the resources to investigate allegations within the grow communities. To date, only one Humboldt County grower has been convicted on charges of rape and sexual assault. Most cases are dismissed before reaching a court.

In addition to these incidents, a growing number of trimmigrants have been reported as missing after working in the region. Humboldt County reported 352 missing people in 2015 alone—more per capita than any other county in California. Again, police lack the resources to pursue these cases, and regard most as “low priority.”

The CIR report cites an incident in which a San Francisco resident disappeared during harvest season in the Humboldt County town of Garberville. Her mother and roommate filed a missing persons report, which was labeled by the county sheriff’s office as a “voluntary missing adult.” The woman was found months later, and reported that she had been held against her will on a pot farm, where she had been drugged and sexually abused.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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