For decades, the ancient forests in remote Northern California counties have provided cover for the nation’s largest marijuana-growing industry, shielding pot farmers from convention, outsiders, and law enforcement. The forests also hide secrets, among them young women with stories of sexual abuse and exploitation, reports Reveal, the publication of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Some have spoken out; a handful have pressed charges. Most have confided only in private. Two growers began having sex with their teenage trimmer. When they feared she would run away, they locked her inside an oversized toolbox with breathing holes. Students from nearby Humboldt State University return from a summer of trimming marijuana buds with tales of being forced to give their boss a blow job to get paid. Other “trimmigrants,” who typically work during the June-to-November harvest, recount offers of higher wages to trim topless.
Reveal unearthed dozens of accounts of sexual exploitation, abuse and trafficking. Victims’ advocates say the problem is far larger and, with every harvest, continues to grow. “Women believe they are getting hired for trimming work, and then they’re drugged and raped,” said Maryann Hayes Mariani of 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.” Law enforcement repeatedly has failed to investigate abuse and sexual violence in the industry. Instead, officers mostly focus on what they view as the root cause of the problem: the drug trade. In the rural counties of Northern California, marijuana is a largely underground industry, worth billions. Last year, legal California sales alone were valued at $2.7 billion, says The ArcView Group, a marijuana market research firm. Sales are projected to balloon to $6.4 billion by 2020 if marijuana is legalized for recreational use. It’s a big business, drawing busloads of job seekers.