‘You Have to Pay With Your Body’: The Hidden Nightmare of Sexual Violence on the Border

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MCALLEN, Tex. — It was dark in the stash house where they kept her, the windows covered so no one could see inside. At first, the smugglers had her cook for the other migrants who had recently crossed illegally into the United States. Then they took her to a room upstairs, locked the door and began taking turns with her.

It was the summer of 2014, and Melvin, a 36-year-old mother of three, had just completed the journey from her native Guatemala, crossing the Rio Grande on a raft before being led to the house in the Texas border city of McAllen.

For weeks in that locked room, the men she had paid to get her safely to the United States drugged her with pills and cocaine, refusing to let her out even to bathe. “I think that since they put me in that room, they killed me,” she said. “They raped us so many times they didn’t see us as human beings anymore.”

On America’s southern border, migrant women and girls are the victims of sexual assaults that most often go unreported, uninvestigated and unprosecuted. Even as women around the world are speaking out against sexual misconduct, migrant women on the border live in the shadows of the #MeToo movement.

[Read the Newsletter: Yes, There Was Duct Tape: The Harrowing Journeys of Migrants Across the Border. Sign up for Crossing the Border here]

The stories are many, and yet all too similar. Undocumented women making their way into American border towns have been beaten for disobeying smugglers, impregnated by strangers, coerced into prostitution, shackled to beds and trees and — in at least a handful of cases — bound with duct tape, rope or handcuffs.

The New York Times found dozens of documented cases through interviews with law enforcement officials, prosecutors, federal judges and immigrant advocates around the country, and a review of police reports and court records in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The review showed more than 100 documented reports of sexual assault of undocumented women along the border in the past two decades, a number that most likely only skims the surface, law enforcement officials and advocates say.

In addition, interviews with migrant women and those working with them along the border point to large numbers of cases that are either unreported or unexamined, suggesting that sexual violence has become an inescapable part of the collective migrant journey.

President Trump has used the threat faced by migrant women to make his case for a border wall. “One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico,” he said in January — an estimate that appears to have originated from some limited surveys, one of them by Doctors Without Borders, of women traveling through Mexico.

But less understood is that the violence that befalls migrant women happens not just during the perilous journey through Mexico: Much of it happens after women reach the supposed safety of the United States.

In July, a 23-year-old Honduran woman told the authorities that she was sexually assaulted in a bedroom closet by a smuggler who had helped her and her sister cross into the South Texas city of Mission. The following month, a sheriff’s deputy in San Antonio was charged with sexually assaulting the 4-year-old daughter of an undocumented Guatemalan woman and threatening to have her deported if she reported the abuse. In 2017, a guide leading a group of migrants through the Tohono O’odham Nation’s reservation in Arizona raped a woman from El Salvador twice during a seven-day desert hike, threatening to leave her stranded if she resisted. “I hope I leave you pregnant so you have one of my kids,” he said, the woman told the authorities.

Read the entire article here: https://nyti.ms/2VyZKZQ