As the number of Central American women and girls crossing into the U.S. continues to spike, so is the staggering amount of sexual violence waged against these migrants who are in search of a better life.
According to a stunning Fusion investigation, 80 percent of women and girls crossing into the U.S. by way of Mexico are raped during their journey. That’s up from a previous estimate of 60 percent, according to an Amnesty International report.
This year alone, immigration authorities expect more than 70,000 unaccompanied minors to come through the United States unlawfully, the majority of whom are from Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The number of unaccompanied Central American girls caught at the Southwest border has rapidly outpaced the number boys, according to a July Pew Research study.
Through May, the number of unaccompanied girls younger than 18 caught at the US-Mexico border increased by 77 percent.
But while many of these girls are fleeing their homes because of fears of being sexually assaulted, according to the UNHCR, they are still meeting that same fate on their journey to freedom.
Rape can be perpetrated by anyone along the way, including guides, fellow migrants, bandits or government officials, according to Fusion. Sometimes sex is used as a form of payment, when women and girls don’t have money to pay bribes.
The assaults are so common that many women and girls take contraceptives beforehand as preventative measures.
What’s particularly disconcerting is that the fact that these figures may not even represent the full grim picture.
There is one unit in Mexico that is committed to investigating and prosecuting crimes against migrants, Erin Siegal McIntyre, one of the Fusion reporters who wrote the sexual violence story, told HuffPost Live.
Yet, though thousands of women are passing through Mexico, the unit reported that it’s seen only six cases of assault against migrant women this year, which includes kidnapping, rape and armed robbery.
The issue, McIntyre says, is that these victims are too afraid to come forward both because of the stigma that’s associated with rape and the fact that they fear being sent back home.
"The very authorities who should be handling such complaints are also in most cases the ones that are tasked with rounding up migrants and deporting them back to their native country," McIntyre said. "It’s very hard to get people to open up about stuff like this."