Ignoring mass rape: a price of dehumanization


Roy Germano was hiking  border trails that migrants so often use to cross into the United States. He saw something disturbing and wrote about it:

…near the end of our hike, Bob and I discovered a pair of women’s underwear hanging from a tree limb…Our hearts sank upon making this discovery; we knew what this meant. As The Tucson Weekly pointed out, an estimated 70 percent of women who cross through the Arizona desert without a male companion end up the victims of sexual assault.

According to Mr. Germano and other observers, the human smugglers are often the ones who rape these women. After they are done, they “hang their victims’ underwear on tree limbs as trophies for other crossers to see.”

And it is not just the  smugglers who are raping women on the border;  U.S. agents at the border and in detention facilities do as well.

In a September, 2010 article the LA times found that in the last 18 months, five border patrol agents have been accused or convicted of sex crimes or assaults. One of the agents is accused of sexually assaulting a migrant while her young children were nearby in a car.

Some have attributed these crimes to the fact of Obama’s increased enforcement of the border, like the influx of insufficiently screened border patrol agents.

But the latter argument seems to fail. Dr. Sylvanna Falcon, a professor who has studied the occurrence of official sexual assault of women at the border, wrote an article in 2001 that documents several  Border Patrol and INS agents rapes of women from 1989 to 1996.

From the brief research I have conducted, there does not appear to be any discernible trend–upwards or downwards– of  incidences of rape and sexual assault of migrant women by U.S. immigration officials.

Dr. Falcon admits the inability to obtain concrete numbers in a 2008 article by Tuscon Weekly:

The degree to which it happens is not well-known, but women are particularly vulnerable when they come into contact with agents

Power & Dehumanization: A Noxious Compound

ICE and Border Patrol agents are cops in every sense of the word but with a significant exception: their main purpose is to use the power vested in them by the government to pursue humans who are not U.S. citizens.  ICE and Border Patrol power is less checked; undocumented immigrants cannot, by virtue of their status, successfully report crimes like U.S. citizens. Deported and silenced, or not deported and silenced.

Exacerbating the power imbalance, border patrol agents encounter women in the isolated desert, where no eyes but those of the victims can be witness to a crime.

The authors of the U.S. constitution were well aware of what occurs when a power such as a police agency is unchecked; abuse, injustice, evil. Call it what you will, but it is simply wrong and should be stopped.

Humans cannot be trusted to act nobly on their own; systems must be implemented to prevent harm. And our immigration system, particularly immigration enforcement in the form of ICE and the Border Patrol, does not have  a sufficient system in place to prevent the most pernicious of harms–rape– to women migrants. It begins and ends with society.

Society as the Source

Whomever the perpetrator of the rape is–a human smuggler or a border patrol agent or ICE agent–there is a notable lack mainstream media coverage of this human rights maelstrom that has victimized countless women. The silence can be attributed to the market for news, in part. The people.

In the U.S., there is a considerable chunk of the population(i.e. GOP)  that scorns undocumented immigrants because “they broke the law”. This scorn dehumanizes,  significantly undermining many peoples’ ability to be concerned for a fellow human. The absence of concern creates a blanket of silence, ensuring that major media outlets will not report even the most horrific crime(See Brisenia Flores) because of  lack of demand for the story.

The dehumanization reaches far; U.S. citizens who stridently call for justice for humans half way across the globe even go on to actively contribute to egregious human rights violations right on their doorstep.

In reference to the Dream Act, a person on twitter who claims to be “passionate about human rights all over the globe” said to another:

they break the law and get the same rights as us. Sickening. And we don’t have to guess what party they will vote for…

This “human rights” person was sickened because humans, brought here as minors, would become legalized in the U.S.  The “broke the law”  utterance creates a divide of  moral superiority because it implies that the speaker, if in the shoes of the undocumented person, would have acted differently. However, most U.S. citizens are so by virtue of birth and cannot speak to the morals of someone else’s decision to  emigrate to the U.S. outside of the legal channels. One can speculate, but not say it with such unquestioning conviction.

Society’s Strain On Justice

As you should know, the immigration issue is currently a bulwark of the GOP’s political strategy to dethrone the Democrats.

Republicans recycle the same argument whenever there is a proposed immigration reform that involves legalization of undocumented immigrants: “They broke the law. We CANNOT REWARD ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR WITH AMNESTY. NO AMNESTY EVER”. The democrats, in turn, have become terrified of the raw political power that this no amnesty rhetoric has bestowed upon the GOP. Democrats almost all speak of “Secure the border first, then we’ll talk about other things”.

The grassroots and government leaders’ dehumanization melds together,’ magnifying the perceived wrongs that undocumented immigrants have purportedly committed and can never be absolved of. In this storm of disproportionate noise, women are left to scream in the desert as they are raped. This must stop. It begins with you.

How? Do not dehumanize. Consider all as your equal human being and then act accordingly. Pay detailed attention to what goes on in the United States immigration enforcement world; human rights demand no less. This blog, by a law professor, is a good place to start.





2 Responses to “Ignoring mass rape: a price of dehumanization”

  1. concerned citizen Says:

    Inhuman treatment of anyone isn’t acceptable, but if they had stayed home and not tried to invade another country, they would not have been in that situation. They must be discouraged from coming and deported if found here.

    Those who are preying on these helpless people, whether coyotes or INS or Border Patrol must be punished.

    • bjohns15 Says:

      invade is an improper word. It’s more like, entering to find work. Invade presupposes hostile intentions. And people staying home is irrelevant. In fact, I think you just dehumanized.

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