For the majority of Central American women and girls crossing Mexico en route to the U.S., rape is another step along the path to the American dream.
Exact statistics don’t exist. Previously, nonprofits including Amnesty International estimated that, in 2010, roughly 60 percent of migrant women and girls were sexually assaulted in Mexico, based on interviews with migrant shelter directors and other experts.
Yet in late August, as I reported on migration along the western Mexico-Guatemala border, various sources said the number is likely higher—closer to 80 percent.
Central American women migrants share their stories in the video below.
“I think almost all of the women are abused on the way north,” lawyer Elvira Gordillo said. Gordillo works in private practice, and specializes in helping trafficked migrant women leave prostitution. “[These migrants] know the price to pay for getting to the United States. The price is being sexually violated.”
Sex crime statistics are nearly impossible to obtain due to various impediments in crime reporting. Most migrant women and girls don’t have permission to be in Mexico, meaning that reporting rape or assault to Mexican authorities carries a real risk of apprehension and deportation to their countries of origin.
Worse, authorities themselves can sometimes be the perpetrators.“State agents—members of the various police forces or personnel of the Instituto Nacional de Migración (National Institute of Migration—INM)—have been directly involved in the commission of the crimes and human rights violations” that include kidnappings, assault, murder, and rape, a 2013 report from the Organization of American States (OAS) stated.
Between 2008 and 2011, the same report claimed, Mexican courts didn’t make a single conviction or decision related to a migrant rape case.
Alejandro Vila, head of a specialized migrant protection unit in the southern Mexican border state of Chiapas, says that only a handful of cases related to violence against migrant women have crossed his desk so far this year.
Rape is so common that may Central American women receive contraceptive injections of birth control like Depo-Provera, which prevents menstruation and ovulation for three consecutive months, before leaving their home countries.
“Among migrants,” the OAS report said, “this contraceptive method is known as the “anti-Mexico shot.”
Officials like Gabriel García, a detective working in the Mexican border town of Huixtla, Chiapas, confirmed the prevalence of birth control used as a preventative measure against rape.
Other factors further complicate the reporting of sex crimes perpetrated against migrant women in Mexico. Sex can be seen as an economic exchange or form of payment; a physical “currency” for those women who lack the cash needed to pay bribes or “protection” fees.
A slang term even exists in Mexican Spanish—“cuerpomátic,” or “cuerpomático,” meaning to use one’s body — or cuerpo— as a form of payment or currency.
Women migrants are also high-value targets for criminals who kidnap and sell them into prostitution. Inside the hundreds of brothels and “table-dance” bars cluttering Mexico’s southern border, the majority of sex workers are Central American migrants.
“Lety,” a 21-year-old Honduran woman, was tricked into prostitution along the border at age 16. Gordillo helped her escape, and they’ve now filed criminal charges against the brothel owner who kept Lety in servitude.
Yet other women, once they’ve begun working as prostitutes, choose to stay.
“Charity,” a 36-year-old Guatemalan woman, thought she would be working in a restaurant. She says she doesn’t enjoy prostitution, but has grown used to it. Her earnings are enough to send remittances home.
“My family is very humble, very simple,” she said. “Our economic situation isn’t good. I need this. That’s why I continue to work here.”