Migrant Women Who Were Sexually Assaulted in ICE Detention Are Telling Their Stories 


In 2014, after fleeing from a partner who raped and beat her in Honduras, a woman identified as “E.D.” was sent with her toddler to a family detention center in Pennsylvania where she was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a guard

“I didn’t know how to refuse because he told me that I was going to be deported,” she told the New York Times. “I was at a jail and he was a migration officer. It’s like they order you to do something and you have to do it.”

The officer, Daniel Sharkey, later pled guilty to institutional sexual assault. What’s rare about E.D.’s story is not, unfortunately, that an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Officer abused a woman in detention. It’s rare that he was prosecuted for it.

According to Freedom for Immigrants, an immigrant detention watchdog group, the Office of Inspector General received “over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against component agencies in DHS” between January 2010 and July 2016, but investigated fewer than one percent of these cases. The group, formerly known as CIVIC, filed a federal complaint over governmental inaction in 2017. In its federal complaint, the group cited the case of Rosanna Santos, a survivor of domestic violence held in immigrant detention at a Pennsylvania jail. In 2013, an officer sexually assaulted her and then placed her in solitary confinement for 11 days.

The Times reports that between 2013 and 2017, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency has received 1,310 claims of sexual abuse from detainees, but immigrant rights advocates and lawyers predict the actual number of sexual assaults is much higher. As Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, communications director of anti-sexual violence group Just Detention International told the Intercept in April, “On top of feelings of shame and the victim-blaming that all survivors face, detainees who are sexually abused by staff are faced with the horrifying prospect of having to report the assault to their rapist’s colleagues and friends.” The Intercept found that 59 percent of sexual abuse complaints filed between 2010 and 2017 cited an ICE officer or detention contractor, like Sharkey.

More than 40,000 immigrants are currently detained in the U.S. The Trump administration’s goal of detaining 15,000 more immigrants, along with its policy of detaining families indefinitely without increased protections from Congress, or a major oversight of DHS, is a recipe for more violence and abuse. You can watch the New York Times’s video about E.D. and sexual assault in immigrant detention here.

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