How To Help Sexual Assault Survivors At The Border & Raise Awareness About The Issue

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The migrants who make their way towards the United States in search of a better life often have an unimaginably difficult journey — and it often doesn't get any easier once they get across the border. Sadly, some smugglers and others take advantage of the women under their control, forcing these women to reckon with the trauma of surviving sexual assault in addition to everything else. For these women, the situation is bleak — but there are ways you can help survivors of sexual abuse at the border, and it all starts with supporting the organizations who are doing work on the ground there.

The problem of sexual abuse of migrants is a widespread and complicated one, according to an in-depth report from The New York Times. One prong of it is smugglers who take advantage of the women who have paid them to get safe passage to the United States, but it doesn't stop there. In July, The Times spoke to two women who had been sexually assaulted while in ICE custody, and there are also reports of migrant children being sexually assault while they were detained at the border.

In an emailed statement, an ICE spokesperson tells Bustle that the authority "has zero tolerance for all forms of sexual abuse or assault against individuals in the agency’s custody, and we are committed to investigating and responding to every allegation of sexual abuse and assault."

Everything is so under the surface that helping these victims isn't so easy as just showing up at the border or at a detention facility — instead, the best way to go about it is to support the organizations that already have an infrastructure in place. Here are just a few suggestions of where to go to do that.

1. The ACLU

Back in May 2018, the ACLU was part of the first team to expose alleged sexual abuse of migrant children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody between 2009 and 2014. A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection disputed the ACLU report, saying:

The false accusations made by the ACLU against the previous administration are unfounded and baseless. ... The OIG has already completed an investigation and found these claims unsubstantiated and did not observe misconduct or inappropriate conduct. CBP takes seriously all allegations of misconduct, but without new specifics is unable to check to commence reasonable steps to examine these assertions and address the accusations levied.

Still, the ACLU has always been a powerful voice speaking on behalf of immigrants in the American legal system. If you want to protect migrant victims of sexual assault, one of the best things you can do is either donate to or volunteer with the ACLU.

2. Las Americas

The immigrant advocacy organization Las Americas provides support to migrants in the form of legal aid, which is one important thing that survivors of sexual abuse need. You don't have to be a lawyer to volunteer with Las Americas, however, so that organization is a good place to turn if you want to commit some time to helping migrants at the border.

3. Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc

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For migrants who find themselves in West Texas or New Mexico, Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc (DMRS) is a great resource. The organization exists specifically to provide migrants in need with legal services, and survivors of violent crimes are one specific group that the group focuses on helping. You can help DMRS as a donor, a volunteer, or even, for a few select people, as an intern.

4. Lobby Your Congresspeople To Raise Awareness

While there isn't too much that a single senator or member of the House can do to protect migrants from suffering this fate, there's definitely strength in numbers. The more people in power there are thinking about the issue, the more likely that it is that the federal government will make moves to help prevent it. Call your senator and your representative, tell them that you care about the problem, and ask them to start organizing on the immigrants' behalf.

5. Spread The Word Yourself

While awareness of the problem won't fully solve it, it's important that people know what's going on. You can use your own social media networks to spread the word — it's a small contribution, but you never know who might find out because you tell them, and what might come of that. If armchair activism is your only option right now to stop migrant women and children from being sexually assaulted, then by all means, use it.

Of course, the problem of smugglers assaulting migrants is only one symptom of the bigger structural problems surrounding immigration — unrest and gang violence in Central America, non-transparent immigration practices at the border, and an administration that has done everything in its power to prevent migrants and refugees from actually reaching that refuge in the United States. You can't fix those problems yourself, but you can at least address the symptoms in a small way.