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article imageVictims of Silence and Invisibility along U.S., Mexican Borders

By Heike Winnig     May 2, 2010 in Crime
Three young women aged 16, 17 and 20 reported having been raped by masked men. Civilian border-watchers heard their cries, less than 100 yards from the Arizona border. They were helpless, but the reports didn't slow deportation proceedings against them.
It was early May in 2008, and a few days later, two more women were found alive but badly beaten near Arivaca, south of Tucson. During the same week, yet two more women reported having been raped. (Source: The Tuscon Weekly, Tim Vanderpool, June 5, 2008)
The rapists are known to hang women's bras and panties from tree limbs as trophies.
According to Tim Vanderpool of The Tuscon Weekly, under the desert’s cloak of night, rape is the norm and the "Price of Admission" for women wanting illegal entry into the United States. As dawn approaches, for many of these migrant women, daylight brings the brutal harshness of reality, triggering the memory of what they’ve lost in their desperate journey north, in hopes of finding a better life.
Few women care to describe their ordeals to authorities in stark government detention facilities. If they do gather the courage to do so, it's often as they're already being deported back across the border, at times right back into the same situations from which they escaped. Matters are furthermore complicated by the blurred lines of geography. It is often difficult to determine whether or not assaults occurred on U.S. soil or Mexico’s. Though, to be sure, this detail matters little to the victims.
Dr. Sylvanna Falcón, an assistant professor of sociology at Connecticut College, disclosed that exploitation is not limited to the desert. She refers to well-documented incidents of U.S. Border Patrol agents or other officials pressuring women into having sex in exchange for their freedom. These women were raped by those with the power to deport them.
One scandalous case was of the Border Patrol agent in Texas, who was convicted of detaining a 23-year old woman by driving her to a motel, where he sexually assaulted her. Another one has been the ongoing investigation of an extensive detention center in South Texas, operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where a culture of rape, sexual coercion and cover-ups has reportedly existed for years.
Sadly, rape and exploitation of women have been largely shelved as low-priorities to gather dust or have gone unreported, and specific numbers are not easily ascertainable. According to the United Nations, up to 70 percent of women crossing the border without husbands or families are abused in some way. Some Human Rights organizations consider that these crimes may be more pervasive compared to what records confirm.
On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Tim Johnson of McClatchy Newspapers reports that Amnesty International released its INVISIBLE VICTIMS: MIGRANTS ON THE MOVE IN MEXICO report, which reveals that as many as six out of every 10 Central American women and girls are raped as they pass through Mexico hoping to cross illegally into the United States.
The report claims widespread human rights abuse faced by tens of thousands of women, men and children every year, who without legal permission try to cross Mexico on their way to the U.S. border. It details the dangers facing migrants including extortion, beatings, sexual violence, abduction and murder. The victims are tormented by private security guards, migration officials, police, military, people traffickers and criminal gangs.
“Many women migrants are deterred from reporting sexual violence by the pressures to continue their journey and the lack of access to an effective complaints procedure,” the report says. It adds, that the prevalence of rape is such, that some smugglers of people demand that women have contraceptive injections before the journey as a precaution.
Amnesty asserts that much of the abuse occurs in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, where criminals, who are in cahoots with conductors and local, state or federal police, halt freight trains, which often are carrying hundreds of illegal migrants. Though, problems are also severe in Tabasco and Veracruz states.
In 2009, Mexican immigration authorities detained 64,061 migrants, of which approximately a fifth were women or girls, according to Amnesty’s report. Criminal gangs are behind most of the abuses, but “there is evidence that state officials are involved at some level, either directly or as a result of complicity and acquiescence,” it concludes.
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