Berenice Valdez, the coordinator of the Institute for Women in Migration (Imumi) in Mexico, recently claimed that her country is a “very hostile territory” for migrant women.
This was reinforced by an employee at a Guadalajara non-profit providing immigration services who said most will experience sexual violence during their trajectory to the U.S. border.
“Based on national data, six out of every ten women passing through Mexico are raped in transit,” said Elisa Alejandra Guerra Macías at FM4, a social agency providing humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants. “But all of the women have been victims of some type of sexual violence. That’s to say, they have already been violated in their countries of origins, either by family members, parents or partners.”
The number of women fleeing their Central American homelands due to gender or domestic violence is still unknown, since FM4 hasn’t implemented a quantifiable database. However, the categorization of this kind of abuse is largely absent in their home countries.
“It’s not so much that this concept of domestic violence doesn’t exist in their countries of origin, it’s that violence is so internalized and naturalized that a lot of the time, many women don’t realize they’re actually experiencing it,” said Macías, who noted that approximately one out of ten migrants who are attended to by her organization are female. “I would say that almost all of the women we assist have been victims of domestic violence at any given time.”
There isn’t even a clear indication of how many women undergo human rights abuses during their migration across Mexico, not only in the form of sexual violence but also at the hands of organized crime groups and corrupt police forces. According to the head of Imumi, justice often goes unserved.
“Authorities and organized crime groups take advantage of migrant women,” Valdez told El Economista newspaper. “They say to them: ‘Oh, if you can’t pay me (with cash), then pay me with a sexual favor.’”
Migrant women usually do not report crimes committed against them in Mexico due to legal barriers, a lack of trust in the judicial system or fear of deportation. Filing an official denuncia (complaint) requires an official document proving immigration status.
In hopes of dodging problems on the road, some women pay men to defend them by offering sexual favors in exchange for protection, which can sometimes lead to an array of other sexual abuses from that person. This is a reality for many women, according to Macías.
“If a woman plans to travel without a male companion, she probably knows that she’ll encounter sexual violence at some point along the way,” said Macías, who believes train hopping presents the most danger for migrant women.
“There is an enormous risk if they travel on trains, becoming the victims of crimes such as human trafficking. For example, many women working in night clubs, prostitution or pornography are without documents and (easily) become victims of human trafficking.”