After the overwhelming response to the article about rape trees published last week, we decided to take a more in-depth look at the perils women face as they attempt to immigrate into America. The journey is dangerous—from the malevolent coyotes transporting their human cargo, to the harsh conditions faced in the desert—and many women are realistic about crossing the border. There have even been reports of women starting birth control pills before their journey because they consider rape an inevitable part of the process.
A report by the United Nations estimates that 70% of women and girls who cross the border without husbands or other family members are sexually abused in some way, while those who work for women's rights agencies such as the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children say the practice is even more pervasive. Dr. Sylvanna Falcón, a professor at Connecticut College who has done extensive research into human-rights abuses along the U.S./Mexico border, points out that the sexual exploitation of women crossing the borders is not limited to the coyotes and the desert crossing. There have also been documented incidents of U.S. Border Patrol agents raping women or pressuring them for sex in exchange for their freedom.
The women who suffer at the hands of the coyotes and Border Patrol agents have little recourse available to them, especially if they are unfortunate enough to become pregnant as a result of the assault. In 2008, 10,653 women were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and according to spokeswoman Cori Bassett, approximately 10% were found to be pregnant, many of them victims of rape. Compounding this problem is the near impossibility of obtaining an abortion if detained by I.C.E., and the fact that border assaults, like most rapes, go unreported.
Dr. Falcón explains one possible reason this systematic abuse of women has gone unchecked for so long, "Our society takes rape seriously, but it doesn't take this type of rape seriously. In all of our national discourse around securing our borders, rarely, if ever, do you hear about any kind of protection for people who might be crossing. Largely, that's because the discussion has been framed around protecting us—protecting the U.S.—and once you get into that framework, what happens to the other person is not even on the radar."