Assault Victims Need Advocacy: The Story Of Rosalba Cruz Moran

by Elisabeth Lamar

Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
– Matthew 24:40, King James Bible

Forty-five minutes north from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles, an agricultural wonderland awaits. Ventura County grows a plethora of profitable crops, but in the nutrient dense soil of the Oxnard plain, strawberries reign supreme. The people harvesting the fruit, for a pittance of pay and ample exposure to pesticides, are mostly Mexican immigrants. A significant percentage of the fieldworkers come from the impoverished state of Oaxaca, which is known for being rich in a variety of native cultures, with sixteen unique languages. In fact, approximately one-third of California farmworkers speak an indigenous language from southern Mexico.

On November 23, 2015, Rosalba Cruz Moran, a Mixteco speaking Oaxacan migrant, was convicted of giving birth in the field adjacent to the one where she picked ripe berries, and leaving the infant to die. Moran is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, January 7, 2016 and she is facing 25 years to life in prison for first-degree murder.

While on the witness stand, Moran testified that after her delivery in the dirt she “couldn’t think clearly.” Hampered by a hazy state of mind, she believed that the newborn would be found and brought to safety. Moran said that she was unsure if she was pregnant or not and feared being kicked out of her house by sister Antonia if she brought the baby home.

Early in the investigation, Moran gave conflicting accounts about the birth. During initial questioning, detectives spoke too quickly for Moran to comprehend in Spanish, her second language.

Immediately following Moran’s arrest, community members began pushing for public service announcements to be broadcast in Mixteco about the Safely Surrendered Baby Law. Implemented in 2001, the law allows a parent or guardian to turn in an infant within 72 hours of birth to a hospital or fire station, no questions asked.

Educating women about this option after childbirth is inarguably a step in the right direction. However, more complicated issues surrounding Moran’s case have failed to be addressed.

Moran stated repeatedly that her pregnancy was the product of a rape. Resources need to be made readily available for undocumented women who may have been victimized by sexual assault. Campaigns designed to spread awareness about safe surrender sites are necessary to prevent tragedies like Moran’s from occurring in the future. But what women need most is easily accessible reproductive healthcare, including abortion on demand. Despite being a relatively simple procedure, obtaining an abortion can be difficult, especially when you don’t speak the language, and cost prohibitive as well. Many obstacles regarding healthcare for farmworkers remain, including an acute lack of qualified Mixteco interpreters in the medical field.

Additionally, navigating the American legal system can be intimidating to people who are not here “legally”. In fact, 70 percent of undocumented Latino immigrants stated that they would not file a report with the police if a victim of crime for fear of deportation.

Sexual assault is common among undocumented women in this country. Labor leader and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta has stated that rape is an “epidemic in the field.” Female farmworkers are often brutalized at their workplace, considered by perpetrators to be low-hanging fruit.

Serious changes need to be made for undocumented women in this country. Assailants must face serious judicial consequences for their violent crimes and barriers for women reporting sexual assault have to be removed.

Header image via Flickr/Jeremy Hockin

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