Friday, March 27, 2009

Rape Trees and Immigrant Women: The Silent Victims

This is a guest post by Natalie.

Natalie blogs as Mzbitca at What a Crazy Random Happenstance.  By day she works as an Addictions Therapist and by night she watches American Idol and Dollhouse.

I will be the first to admit that I am not up on many of the immigration arguments that are going on right now. I know my stance would be on the more “liberal” side but all the little details about immigration reform and which policies are better than others are something I need to educate myself about more intensely. I started researching a bit after I heard about Rape Trees. Rape trees are reported as trees where, after they have been raped trying to cross the border, women’s undergarments are hung as a sign for posturing and/or intimidation.

In my research there were different types of explanations of rape trees. The average conservative blog focused on the fact that this is just another reason that “illegal immigration” is absolutely evil.

Have you heard of this faucet of illegal immigration? Rape Trees? I hadn’t until last week.

Reason #4,323 to support the Minutemen…

Of course, to these anti-immigration activists it is the uncivilized “other”. Nothing like this would never happen in America…no no no, we never have things like gang rapes or men proudly boasting of their sexual assaults. They do not care about these women. They want to use their victimization to attempt to make a point about how horrible illegal immigration is (all the while ignoring the fact that it is people like the minutemen who make the border such a dangerous place)

For any decent, law-abiding American, to see a rape tree is to gaze upon the face of the enemy of civilization. To see the blood-stained ground beneath them is to behold the faces of their victims. Never forget that. When the proponents of illegal immigration and the liberal news media decry the Minutemen as “racists” and “vigilantes” ask them, “What about the rape trees?” Who besides the Minutemen are doing anything about the rape trees? And now that you know, if you do nothing, what does that say about you?” (source)

It would seem that any self-respecting feminist would have to be against the illegal immigration that gives these horrible people the power and opportunity to treat woman and children this way…

See that ladies, it’s all our fault if we don’t do anything. Except of course we are, by trying to stop the detention of those captured and trying to make the border more open so that people aren’t viewing crossing dangerous territory as their only option.

Other blogs I found were more sympathetic about what the rape trees were and how the United States should feel.

We can only imagine the trauma and terror that these women, whose only crime was that they wanted to come to work in the United States, must have felt not only during the assault but afterwards as well. Seeing that these rape trees were in Arizona, the probable assumption is that these migrant women were on their way deeper into Arizona on their journey’s elsewhere.

Yet, after having been subjected to such horrendous violations, they are forced to suffer silently.


For that reason, it’s time to craft a federal program that gets these women out of the shadows so they can tell their stories, identify their attackers and begin the healing process with the professional counselling that they need.

The long-term psychological damage of a brutal rape is a price no woman should have to pay to support her family — no matter what side of the border she’s on

This all sounds well and good but I couldn’t help but wonder why these women are nameless. We know that rape trees exist and we know what they stand for but we have done that without talking to the women? I am all for counselling and helping these women but before we can do that we must find them and help them. Otherwise we are just using their suffering as a pawn in our argument. Pro-immigration reform people and anti-immigration reform people can get what they need from this discussion about rape trees. Either they are proof that Hispanics are monstrous creatures who need to be kept out of America or they are proof that are gov’t needs to change its policies. What they are not, in either of these situations, is a human being. They are a flag to be waved, a point in the argument, and button designed to trigger base emotions when pushed. Once again women are not truly treated as individuals but instead as pawns of both those that don’t have our best interest at heart and those that do.

A simple google search allowed me to see that there are women who have deal with being victims of sexual assault across the border. They are not nameless and faceless victims hiding in the shadows. They are incarcerated, are receiving counselling from others, and are being denied abortions.

Maria, a single mother, had left her 8-year-old daughter at home, she told Alvarado, and paid a man to take her to the border. Her ultimate destination, she said, was the Northeast, where a friend had promised to find her work as a housekeeper. “I went to send money home for my daughter,” she told Alvarado in a subsequent counseling session. “This was how I planned to support my family.”

Maria and several other Hondurans were guided on a journey by car and train, she said. At night, they stayed in ramshackle homes, sleeping on crowded floors. One of those nights, just before she reached the border, she said that a man grabbed her near an abandoned shack where the immigrants were staying. He forced himself on her, leaving Maria defenceless, the only witness to the violent act. Afterward, Maria blamed herself. She wondered if this was what she deserved for leaving her daughter.

Days later, as the group waded quietly through the Rio Grande, Maria carried the secret with her. It was something she planned to tell no one. Not long after crossing the river, she heard the engine of a Border Patrol truck, saw the green uniforms coming at her. Within minutes, she was corralled into the backseat of a Border Patrol pickup.

Weeks after the rape, Maria took a pregnancy test at the detention center—a mandatory procedure for female detainees between ages 10 and 50. An official from the Division of Immigration Health Services took the test away and came back to tell Maria the news: She was pregnant.

In 2008, 10,653 women were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to agency spokeswoman Cori Bassett, 965 of those women — nearly 10 percent — were pregnant. Many of them, like Maria, were raped on their way to the United States—a journey known to be dangerous for any willing to take it, but especially so for women.

For two months, while Maria awaited her detention hearing, Alvarado says they met about once every two weeks to talk about the ordeal. Maria asked about her options for ending the pregnancy. “I can’t do it,” Alvarado remembers her saying. “The baby’s face will just remind me of him—the man who did this.”

But Maria ran into a practice limiting the reproductive rights of ICE detainees. For pregnant women in immigration detention facilities, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion. According to Bassett, in fact, “Preliminary records indicated that during fiscal year ’08 and ’09 to date, no detainee has had a pregnancy terminated while in ICE custody.” Not a single one.

This is the reality of women who have crossed our border. They are victimized on their way over and again once they’ve been discovered. However, no one has been talking about these women and their real problems. It’s easier to refer to them as the faceless victims and let people imagine them as a representation to whatever type of agenda they are trying to push. See, once we admit that women are people we have to deal with the fact that they are not just some perfect little story to shock and scare the masses. They have families, they want abortions, and they are in jail and being denied rights. They are human beings and they are being hurt. They deserve more than having their story altered to prove a point; they deserve to have their whole story told no matter how complicated it may make it. I know no one wants their perfect victim story complicated by that whole moral issue of abortion but it’s not their place to decide what parts of reality is presented

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