Over the course of one month, three woman have entered complaints of sexual harassment concerning guards at a federal immigration detention center located in Williamson County, Texas.
The latest pair of women to come forward claim to have experienced insults and advances while detained.
One of the women, only identified as Ana by immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, says she was made to feel uncomfortable by a female guard at the facility. According to case reports, the female guard heckled Ana with questions about her sexuality, looked at her inappropriately and made claims that she and Ana would “be together one day.” Grassroots Leadership says that they were also given an anonymous letter about the same guard from a woman who identified herself only as Esmeralda.
The three victims maintain that there are many women who have yet to speak up.
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Laura Monterrosa is a 23 year-old woman from El Salvador and the first of the three women to make allegations of abuse at the facility. According to reports, the accused guard has yet to be removed from her post, meanwhile Laura is still detained at the same facility. All three accusers claim that other women in the facility have experienced harassment but are refusing to come forward after officials intimidated them, claiming they would negatively influence the outcomes of their immigration cases.
The detention center is operated by a private prison company called CoreCivic, which is contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The handling of the investigation has been under scrutiny by advocates. They have highlighted the ways in which the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has dodged conversations with the victims as well as attorneys and advocates, while also deferring the investigations to federal immigration authorities.
Sexual misconduct complaints are rare in detention centers, but not because harassment doesn’t exist.
Fear of retaliatory mistreatment generally keeps women in immigration detention centers from speaking up about their abuse. And for many of the women in these centers, these fears are not unfounded. Soon after Ana and Esmerelda made their allegations, they were labeled “liars.” Ana was transferred to a detention facility four hours away from her lawyer and support system. According to Grassroots Leadership, Ana has said that because she came forward about the female guard who harassed her, she feared her case would be negatively impacted.
“After other guard noticed the harassment, they encouraged me to file a report, but nothing happened to the guard and I was transferred in retaliation,” she said.
Knowing that there are other women who have suffered at the hands of facility guards is as disturbing as it is discouraging. Let’s hope Ana, Laura and Esmeralda’s bravery ignites others to speak up in the hopes this mistreatment will end.