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News > World

New Report Sheds Light on Rampant, 'Mass' Scale Sexual Abuse by ICE in US Detention Centers

  • The investigative piece is littered with harrowing accounts of sexual abuse and assault suffered by the detainees.

    The investigative piece is littered with harrowing accounts of sexual abuse and assault suffered by the detainees. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 April 2018

The Intercept noted, that although it worked with limited information it received, it still reveals how the state and the institutions are complicit in sexual abuse on a mass scale. 

An investigative piece by the Intercept has revealed harrowing accounts of nearly 1,224 detainees at U.S. immigration centers, having suffered sexual abuse, with half of those accused belonging to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, including detention center guards, and even medical officers.  

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The investigative piece is littered with harrowing accounts of sexual abuse and assault suffered by the detainees.

Through the documents obtained by the Intercept, excruciating reports emerge such as a woman seeking medical help being raped by a medical worker and a private facility contractor at a Washington state immigration detention center, another woman being cuffed and maced after an argument with a fellow detainee at a Florida immigration detention center, with an officer sitting on her "like a person would sit on a horse," his "erect penis on her butt" as she lay on the ground, came to light.   

During an earlier correspondence with the Intercept between 2010 and 2016, the Office of Inspector General, OIG, which is responsible for reviewing the Department of Homeland Security’s various agencies, including ICE and Border Patrol, informed that the DHS received nearly 33,000 complaints. Out of which, from 2010 to 2017, 1,224 complaints were filed, primarily about incidents that took place in ICE custody.    

Of the 1,224 complaints it received in that time period, the OIG investigated 30, according to the data released to The Intercept. The OIG revealed that it investigated 13 additional cases, not included in the data, bringing the total number of cases investigated to 43. 

ICE claimed that it investigates all complaints. According to the U.S. agency's figures, between 2012 and 2017, it found that only 160, or 12 percent, of complaints, were “substantiated,” while 793, or 59 percent, were “unsubstantiated,” and 345, or 26 percent, were “unfounded.” Three percent of investigations remained open, ICE said. 

The OIG office only provided complete documentation for just a fraction, 2 percent, of the cases reported, the Intercept noted. The outlet further added that since 2014, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, per the DHS regulations, is bound to publicly release "all aggregated sexual abuse and assault data" "at least annually" — but the agency has not done so even once.

As per the Intercept, even for its own records, ICE, started thorough documentation only last year, even though the organization is nearly a decade old.  

On the alleged perpetrators, ICE, only revealed data for the years 2016-2018 — the agency found ICE staff or contractors to be the perpetrator in 162, or 25 percent, of the 639 complaints it recorded for the two years.  

"Sexual abuse is an underreported crime everywhere, but it is especially so in detention, and exceptionally so in immigration detention," Lerner-Kinglake said. "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." 

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"A person in immigration detention can’t just pick up and leave — they’re often forced to interact with the individuals who perpetrated the sexual abuse. And if they dare to speak up, they’re often retaliated against and then re-victimized by an ineffective or nonexistent investigative process," Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, an immigrants rights group formerly known as CIVIC, told the Intercept.  

"Saying #MeToo in immigration detention often leads to more pain and trauma."  

"Sadly, these findings are not surprising and largely reflect the federal data on sexual abuse in prisons and jails," Jesse Lerner-Kinglake of Just Detention International, a group that works to end sexual violence in all detention facilities, told the Intercept. 

"More alarming still is the fact that staff perpetrators often face no legal action and many even keep their jobs. And these are only the cases that get reported. Sexual abuse in immigration detention is a crisis, but it’s a completely preventable one," he noted. "Any sexual assault in confinement represents a failure on the part of officials running the facility."

The report indicated that the staggering number of complaints filed, despite serious hurdles faced by the detainees to file them, reflects on how rampant the issue of sexual violence is, across the country. And since filing complaints isn't an easy task, the Intercept noted, many more victims, seemingly, never filed a complaint in the first place.

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Intimidation tactics to snub the detainees from reporting sexual abuse also came to light in the investigation. The Intercept noted the detainees who choose to denounce abuses are exposed to "intimidating bureaucracy and pressure to keep quiet. Several complaints reviewed by The Intercept described retaliation against detainees who filed grievances."

In one reported case, an ICE officer "threatened to file additional immigration charges against him in order to deter him from filing a physical abuse complaint."

"A lot of them are very afraid," said Rosanna Santos, who was sexually harassed at the York County Jail in Pennsylvania, told the Intercept. Santos is one of the very few detainees who has shared her story publicly. "They just want to get bond and forget about what happened in there." 

In 2013, when Santos along with another woman were being taken to the court hearing, the male guard responsible told them. "I’m your only protection right now" and threatened them with "ass fucking." 

Later, when Santos narrated the event to her attorney, who filed a formal complaint, prompting an investigation. But, still, nothing happened. "But at the end of the day, they never did nothing," she said. "The guard kept his job and shift, so she kept seeing him. But soon other detainees started complaining "but they never wanted to report it." 

"They were scared," Santos added. "I decided to speak for girls who are left behind."

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