A 6-Year-Old Migrant Girl Was Reportedly Sexually Abused While In Detention

by Morgan Brinlee
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After being separated from her mother at the border, a 6-year-old migrant child was allegedly sexually abused at a detention center last month, according to a report in The Nation. But the nonprofit group who runs the immigrant detention facility in question claims the child in question denied having ever been touched.

Immigrant rights advocates told The Nation that a 6-year-old migrant girl identified simply as D.L. was sexually abused by an older child not once, but twice while being held at Casa Glendale, an Arizona immigrant detention facility run by Southwest Key Programs, in June. A Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) document obtained by The Nation, showed the facility had D.L. "sign" — the young girl's signature is a single "D" carefully drawn on the page — a form stating that she understood it was her "responsibility" to follow the safety plan outlined by the facility.

But the safety plan laid out by Southwest Key appears to have only included instruction for the girl to "maintain my distance from the other youth involved" and what the center called "psychoeducation." The form further describes the "psychoeducation" provided to the child as discussion about "reporting abuse" and "good touch bad touch."

However, Southwest Key says the publication "mis-characterized" the incident. "It's disappointing that The Nation knowingly mis-characterized what happened," Jeff Eller, a spokesperson for Southwest Key, tells Bustle.

Mark Lane, a spokesperson for the girl's family told The Nation that her father, an undocumented immigrant currently living in a separate state, was notified by the facility that an older boy had fondled his daughter on June 11, a week after the incident was alleged to have occurred. According to the family's spokesperson, the facility said the alleged abuser had also fondled other girls at the detention center. The father's requests to speak with a social worker were ignored, the family's spokesperson said.

Despite promises from Southwest Key that the abuse would not happen again, the father said he was notified June 22 of a second incident of sexual abuse involving his daughter and the same boy. According to The Nation, the girl was both hit and fondled in the second alleged incident.

But Southwest Key tells Bustle that The Nation's report is not an accurate description of what happened. According to Eller, an older girl at the Arizona detention center claimed a 5-year-old boy had touched her and D.L. Following the claim, Eller says the boy was put on "one-on-one constant adult supervision, 24 hours a day."

But when staff questioned D.L., she said the boy had never touched her, Eller tells Bustle, adding that Southwest Keys had video footage from the facility that supported D.L.'s claim she was not touched.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

According to Eller, Southwest Key is required to issue a PREA report "whenever there is any type of action that could be characterized as inappropriate sexual behavior" but that "by design, it is a broad interpretation." While the PREA obtained by The Nation shows someone at Casa Glendale labeled the incident "sexual abuse," Eller tells Bustle an addendum to the PREA noted the incident was not sexual abuse.

"A second report, a PREA addendum, which The Nation does not have or omitted, says clearly the 6-year-old girl said he didn't touch her and this was not sexual abuse." Eller says. He declined to comment on the father's claim that he was notified by phone about two incidents of sexual abuse against his daughter.

In a statement to USA Today, Lane claimed Southwest Key was attempting to backtrack now that the story was out. "It happened, and it happened twice," USA Today quoted Lane as having said of the abuse. "That's a nice way to backtrack. They got to put lipstick on it, that's what spokespeople and publicists do."

D.L. was reportedly separated from her mother in late May under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy after the pair presented themselves to Border Patrol agents at a point of entry in El Paso, Texas. According to The Nation, the girl's mother told authorities they were fleeing gang violence in Guatemala and had "credible fear" that being forced to return to their home country would result in harm to them.

Bustle's attempts to contact the family's spokesperson were unsuccessful.