Farmer accused of groping and sexually assaulting workers
ALLEGATIONS of sexual assault, harassment and extreme misogyny on a Tablelands farm have left police appealing for complainants to come forward to tell their story.
Up to 20 backpackers have rallied together against one Tablelands farmer, whom they allege subjected them to sexual abuse during their employment, with alleged incidents dating from mid 2019 to April 2020.
The farmer in question denied assaulting or sexually harassing his staff.
"I don't do that," he said.
He said the working conditions on his farm were "like every other place".
But police remain frustrated; a lack of faith in the justice system and fear that making a complaint could affect their visa status have stopped these women from speaking to authorities on the record.
Acting Inspector Greg Giles appealed for complainants to report their allegations officially.
"If persons have been assaulted in any way by him, I would highly recommend that they attend the police station and make complaints so they can be investigated," Acting Insp Giles said.
"We would obtain a statement from them and if they return home and court evidence is required, we could possibly do video evidence.
"They would not be stuck in the region once a complaint is made."
Those parties who did agree to speak on the record did so on condition their identities remain hidden.
"I worked for one week for him around June 2019; immediately I felt very uncomfortable," one worker, "Carol", said.
"He had a very creepy vibe that made me feel unsafe. He made comments about my body, asked very personal questions about me in a very unprofessional way, and much more."
She alleged the man at the centre of the allegations pressured her to work in a bikini to clean his sprinklers.
"I had never heard that farmhands ever worked in bikinis in Australia and found this very inappropriate," she said.
She alleged her employer also pressured her for sexual favours.
A second worker, "Mia", alleged the same farmer also wanted her to work in her underwear in May 2019.
"I was desperate to get my days done to earn my visa," Mia said.
She alleged he propositioned her and sexually assaulted her.
"He tried multiple times to tell me I was staying the night there in his room with him and (he) and his mates were sitting around the table drinking and trying to get me to strip and take off my clothes and dance for them, and were making sick jokes at me," she said.
She alleged the farmer sexually assaulted her while she was being driven from the farm after a day's work.
"He was extremely drunk; I was in the front seat and he was in the back and he reached from the back and grabbed my breasts," she said.
She alleged she was also choked by one of his staff as they drove to Cairns.
"I was trying so hard to keep my eyes open but I fell asleep … He was screaming and had his hands around my throat and he was yelling 'f---ing c--- and I couldn't breathe," Mia said.
"Not only did I not have any proof, but I couldn't have found my way back to that farm even if I tried, and I didn't even know the name of the farm. So I never reported the incident to the police."
A third woman, "Molly", worked for the farmer after she lost her job as during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I feel like he kept trying to push my boundaries," Molly said. "I do feel like he targets women to get in very awkward and strange situations and pushes his limits with what he can do with young women which is extremely unsafe."
German seasonal worker "Claudia" had a similar story - earlier this year she too worked for the same farmer and was asked to work in her underwear.
But Claudia said the misogyny she experienced was not limited to his farm.
"I would advertise on Gumtree for cleaning work and the replies were like 'you have to wear no shirt' … it happens all the time; it is frustrating," Claudia said.
"It happened on the Gold Coast, in Brisbane.
"As a young European girl, you don't get warned that this would happen."
One long-term resident said the farmer at the centre of the allegations was known to have violent tendencies.
"He has a reputation for that sort of behaviour," the resident, "Doug", said.
"If a backpacker does not show interest in him, he'll start yelling abuse. A couple have told me they are wary of staying on farms because he has traumatised them."
Doug said exploitation was not limited to that one farm.
"There is a culture of being able to exploit backpackers," he said.
He said that culture preyed on the vulnerability of workers who would endure horrific treatment in order to secure a visa.
Doug said he had helped seasonal workers flee abusive work arrangements and given board to backpackers unwilling to stay on farms where they felt vulnerable.
Have you had a similar experience in a workplace? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally published as Farmer accused of groping, sexually assaulting workers