The hidden nightmare of sexual violence on and at the borders (23-01)

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We hear a lot about immigration, especially in our community. We don’t hear about the hidden nightmare of sexual violence on and at the borders where immigrants come. Undocumented women making their way to our borders report sexual assault both during their journey and upon arriving at the border.

Most of the attackers are never prosecuted or even identified.  Most women do not even report the abuse often because their attackers threaten to expose their immigration status or worse threaten their lives.

Those who go to the authorities may not know their attackers’ names or be able to identify where the attack took place. Smugglers make sure that they do not know their whereabouts so if they are detained, they won’t be able to assist in capturing the smugglers.

Here is one story from the New York Times that did interviews with dozens of women.

“Melvin, a 36-year-old mother of three, had just completed the journey from Guatemala, crossing the Rio Grande on a raft before being led to a house on the Texas border. For weeks she was held in a locked room, the men she had paid to get her safely to the United States drugged her and refused to let her bathe. She said they raped her so many times that they didn’t see her as human anymore.”

The stories are many. Women making their way into American border towns have been beaten, impregnated by strangers, coerced into prostitution, bound, and shackled.

Unfortunately, those attacks don’t end at the border. Many women have reported being assaulted in immigration detention facilities and over a recent 4-year period, immigration attorneys report receiving over 4500 complaints of sexual abuse. (New York Times)

The women are powerless by any measure. Most work in stores, restaurants or factories, if they can work at all and barely make a living. Their English is usually limited, and many do not even tell their family what has happened to them.

This is a time to speak up and out for these women. I have written many times about the Me-Too movement, and I believe just like victims with disabilities, undocumented immigrant women live in the shadows of that movement as well. It is time to work together to bring this issue into the light.

By: Sharon Langer (