EINNEWS, November 18— Immigrant women working in various sectors of the U.S. food industry are being sexually abused and financially exploited, a new study reveals.

The study was conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center and involved interviews with 150 women workers in food sectors as geographically diverse as the grape industry of California and orange industry of Florida.

A majority of the women interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center said they endured some sort of sexual harassment that, at times, rose to the level of sexual assault while working in the fields, packinghouses or processing plants.

In most cases, the report said, the women are virtually powerless to protect themselves. They do not know their rights. They fear that reporting abuses will lead to job loss and, in some cases, deportation and separation from their children.

Some feel extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors. Often, they are faced with threats of firing or offers for jobs in exchange for sex. Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks.

The women also work in dangerous conditions, such as frequent exposure to chemicals and pesticides while on the field, without any sort of safety gear.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has called on Congress to enact changes to the immigration law that would clarify immigrant status and to extend worker safety laws in the agricultural work place.

For more food news, visit Food Industry Today (http://food.einnews.com), a food media monitoring service from EIN News.