For years, sexual abuse and rape have been reported from migrants crossing the border without legal permission. It is well known that many often have to enter into dealings with smugglers or gangs to facilitate the crossing, and women and children are the most vulnerable victims.
Sexual assault is just part of the deal sometimes, and some women prepare for it by taking contraception in advance. Let’s repeat that: women anticipate forced sex and get ready to endure it for the sake of ‘freedom’. How could anyone be prepared for such a traumatic event?
What’s more disturbing, if not infuriating, is that perpetrators aren’t just gang members —they can also be government officials, Border Patrol or Inmigration authorities from both countries. The abuse by authorities has ramped up and Militarized border rape has become widespread in migrant shelters. If the practice has been denominated, therefore it means that it has been systematized. And that implies that it goes unpunished.
Once again, we encounter outrageous law enforcement conduct and an inability to prioritize citizens’ safety and well-being.
The ordeal doesn’t stop there though. The horror deepens and takes a much more permanently invasive form: forced sterilization.
The forced sterilization practice against migrant, refugee, Latina and Indigenous women in the US has a long story. It dates back to the practices of the early 20th century, with poor people in the South being sterilized by federally-funded clinics. Later, in the 70’s, women in the LA Medical Centers were approached for sterilization while enduring labor. Anything to reduce the birth rate of racial minorities.
The US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) has a duty to protect the mental, physical and emotional health of the women detained. Instead, it has conducted unauthorized medical procedures without proper consent or information. Hell broke loose only after the nonprofit Project South filed a complaint on behalf of a nurse who alleged that an “unusual number of hysterectomies” were performed on immigrant detainees.
Let’s take a minute to look at the big picture: abuse, sexual violence, rape, and forced sterilizations. Forced sterilization not only diverts attention and outrage from sexual violence and abuse, it also obscures evidence of rape. As a result, government officials are free to abuse women with impunity.
Where Is This Happening?
In the US, the most prevalent complaints are located in Southern states like California, Arizona, Georgia, Texas and New Mexico. Freedom for Immigrants, a US nonprofit monitoring the human rights abuses faced by immigrants, shared a study in an entry called ‘Widespread Sexual Assault’. The study gathered data about complaints received by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) between May 2014 and July 2016: at least 1,016 reports of sexual abuse, 402 complaints of “coerced sexual contact”, 196 complaints of “sexual harassment”, and 380 complaints of “physical or sexual abuse” lodged against ICE. However, less than 2.4% of the total complaints received were investigated.
In Mexico, Northern cities close to the border such as Tijuana, Mexicali, Monterrey, or Reynosa have all seen a large increase in the number of returnees and an increase in violence, including sexual violence. So says the International Activity Report 2019 collected by Medecins Sans Frontieres through migrants´ testimonials in 2018 and 2019. Migrants in these cities are not only exposed to violence, they are also more vulnerable to extortion and kidnappings.
Women who have undergone rape or any sexual abuse are questioned, discredited and stigmatized. Those who even consider reporting are subject to coercion, misinformation, and imprisonment are coerced, ill-informed or punished with prison-like measures. Thus, many choose to remain silent. Speaking up may not only retraumatize them, it may also jeopardize their entry to the United States.
The lack of an adequate government investigation to tackle this abuse of human rights is appalling. Investigations have been inadequate in capturing the violence that women migrants suffer, but independent research seems to be gaining ground in seeking justice.
How can we allow such conduct in countries who pride themselves of being “developed”? How are we allowing this?
We must act. And we must act NOW.
No impunity for any criminal, no matter how powerful.