Here’s one major aspect of the child refugee crisis on our southern border that is rarely mentioned: The role that sexual violence in Central America is playing in driving young girls to flee north. The New Republic sheds some light on the issue.
One key factor driving this crisis is the well-documented and widespread sexual and gender-related violence in Latin America. In a 2014 report conducted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 70 percent of children interviewed cited domestic violence as well as violence at the hands of gangs, cartels, or “state actors” (such as police), as reasons for fleeing homes in Mexico and Central America. Sexual violence has become so widespread in Guatemala in recent years that in 2009 Doctors Without Borders launched its first Latin American mission dedicated to treating rape and abuse victims. And gender-based violence is now the second highest cause of death for women of reproductive age in Honduras.
The UN Development Program’s Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean has called violence against women, adolescents, and children the “invisible face” of insecurity in the region. But such violence serves as something more: a powerful motivator for flight. As one 15-year-old Salvadoran girl told UN interviewers, “In El Salvador, they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags. My uncle told me it wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”…A 2014 American Immigration Council study on why Central American children are fleeing their homes underscores the scant confidence many have in the police, military, or other government agencies. Of 322 child refugees interviewed—the majority of whom had fled their homes because of violence or the threat of violence—only 16 said they had gone to the police. Eight of those children said the police refused to write a report, six said nothing happened after they came forward, and two said they had received increased threats. One child’s accused rapist still lives next door to her. According to a 2012 report on gender-related violence in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras—co-produced by the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Just Associates—government officials and their security forces were often the worst perpetrators of sexual violence used to “intimidate and subdue” those who come forward with charges against men in positions of power.
But remember, this is the situation that so many on the right are demanding that these kids be sent back to without so much as a hearing (which is required by law).