By Jessica pride
Published on
September 12, 2018
Last Updated
April 5, 2024

Thousands of Migrants Report Sexual Abuse While in Custody

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The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency policy prohibits sexual abuse. Although abuse is illegal regardless of your citizenship, migrant victims of sexual abuse often live in fear and helplessness after the trauma of their assault. Because of this, many do not know where to find help and suffer in silence.

If you have experienced sexual assault as a migrant or while being detained by ICE, you can achieve justice and find healing. You are not alone and you have rights, no matter your legal status. Our compassionate team of advocates are here to provide legal recourse for you if you have been a victim of sexual assault. The Pride Law Firm is available to answer any questions you have, free of charge and completely confidentially at ​619-516-8166.

Knowing Your Rights as a Migrant

Migrants and detainees often do not know they have rights that protect them against sexual abuse. Many are also unaware that state and federal laws have harsh penalties for sex offenders. Because migrant women are often unfamiliar with U.S. laws, it is common for them to avoid reporting sexual abuse at all.

What rights do migrants and detainees have against sexual abuse?

Sexual contact of any kind between detainees and staff is illegal. State and federal laws are in place to protect women and children in detention centers. Additionally, detention facilities are required to act swiftly upon being notified about abuse and provide effective intervention and treatment for victims.

Understanding your rights as a detainee is the first step towards ensuring your safety. Immigrant women who have been sexually assaulted or fear sexual assault have the right to:

  • Report it safely and confidentially to authorities.
  • Immediate protection from the attacker and a referral to a medical examiner.
  • Appropriate housing to prevent further sexual assault.
  • Transportation if the victim's safety is a concern.
  • Collection of evidence and referral to a community facility for treatment when possible.
  • Reproductive health services such as access to pregnancy testing, counseling, HIV testing and care.
  • Security in the form of a same-sex chaperone for medical treatment.
  • Receive a copy of medical records at no cost and have their medical information kept confidential and maintained separately from detention records.

Detainees who know their rights may still need help naming their perpetrators. Knowing your rights is sometimes not enough to give victims the confidence they need to stand up for them. You may find that working with an experienced sexual assault attorney makes this process much easier and provides significant comfort, security and protection.

Challenges to Reporting Abuse for Migrants

Victims who hesitate to report abuse may already be in danger or unaware of their rights.

Tragically, those in detention are often fleeing violence and persecution in their home country. Many are asylum seekers, living in fear of deportation without access to lawyers. Guards may readily take advantage of a detainee’s vulnerability.

Thousands of women and children have experienced abuse while in custody. Because they feel they have nowhere to turn and do not know how to report sexual abuse, perpetrators are getting away with the crime.

“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.”
- Jessee Lerner Kinglake, Just Detention International

Underreported Sexual Abuse at Detention Centers

In addition to fear and isolation, cultural barriers and a lack of resources are key factors in the underreporting of migrant sexual abuse.

Victims may feel angry and hurt, yet hesitate to file a complaint. These conflicting feelings are normal and a part of processing a deeply traumatic event.

Jessee Lerner Kinglake, communications director of anti-sexual violence group Just Detention International, explained, “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.”

While it is difficult, reporting sexual abuse is important for protecting yourself or other victims.

sexual abuse claims

Reporting Migrant Sexual Abuse

If you or a loved one experienced sexual abuse at a detention center, we grieve your losses with you. We are here to enforce the laws and regulations in place to protect you and your loved ones against this horrible violation.

Please follow these tips to help ensure your safety against assault at a detention center:

  • Report sexual harassment or abuse to the appropriate authorities. A detainee should be able to call 911 from any phone in the facility without charge.
  • Keep a record of everything that happened with as much detail as possible, including the sexual act, time, location and all who were involved.
  • File a complaint that includes the information detailed above. *Be sure to make a copy of the complaint before submitting it.
  • Submit a report to The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Instructions for how to do this are here.

Other abuse survivors have fought for their rights and won. Their stories are listed below (be advised, the following stories are explicit).

Abuse Survivors Share Their Stories

Countless migrants have reported instances of sexual assault at detention centers, but few have received justice without taking legal action. The following stories of migrant sexual abuse resulted in successful convictions of their perpetrators.

migrant sexual abuse

Maria left the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center in Texas. After packing her belongings, officials escorted her to a van where she met the driver, a male guard named Donald Dunn. Not long after leaving the location, the driver pulled the van to the side of the road and attacked Maria.

“He grabbed my breasts…He put his hands in my pants and he touched my private parts,” she said. “He touched me again inside the van, and my hands were tied. And he started masturbating.”

An investigation found that Dunn had assaulted as many as five women. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating the detainee’s civil rights and received a 10-month sentence in federal prison.

A 19-year-old woman identified as E.D. was staying in a family detention center in Pennsylvania with her 3-year-old son when a male guard sexually assaulted her.

“I didn’t know how to refuse because he told me that I was going to be deported,” the young woman explained. “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 Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officer faced charges for the abuse. The 40-year-old guard, Daniel Sharkey, later pled guilty to institutional sexual assault and is now facing time in prison.

“Frankly he had sex with her against her will,” explained E.D’s attorney. “Her desire was to see him put away for a long, long time because of the damage that he did to her.”

Ending Migrant Sexual Abuse

For many in our country’s immigration detention system, detention is associated a loss of rights, liberty, and separation from loved ones. Vulnerable detainees in the network of jails across the nation often experience sexual abuse.

Furthermore, most migrant victims do not realize that reporting sexual assault is the safest path to ending the abuse. The civil courts can help a victim receive the justice she and her family need.

With an experienced law firm, assault victims have access to resources and help in their fight to reclaim their rights. Jessica Pride is a sexual assault attorney who supports and fights for women and children suffering from institutional sexual abuse in ICE detention centers across America.

migrant sexual assault

Contact the Jessica Pride Team

If you or a loved one were sexually abused at a detention center and are ready to take the next step, contact The Pride Law Firm today. What has happened to you wasn’t your fault. We want to assure you that you are not alone.Our compassionate team is here to listen to your story while maintaining strict confidentiality.

We have more than ten years of experience fighting on behalf of sexual assault survivors and helpful, free resources to help you during this time. To find out how Jessica can help you, call us today at ​619-516-8166. We are happy to offer a free consultation to discuss your concerns and legal options.

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