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FBI Takes Investigation on Sexual Assault in Hutto Detention Center

National coverage of the sexual abuse scandal at the Hutto Detention Center continues as Rewire reported that the FBI announced it would intervene to conduct an investigation. Laura Monterrosa, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, came forward publicly on November 9 to speak out against the abuse she experienced while she remains held in detention where her abuser is still employed.

The detention center, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), has a history of sexual abuse incidents. In 2007, a CCA guard was accused of assaulting a woman detained with her son. In 2010, another CCA guard assaulted eight women in transport. 

 
Photo of Laura Monterrosa courtesy of Grassroots Leadership

In addition to Monterrosa, two other women formerly detained at Hutto have come forward with claims of sexual abuse. One woman, Ana, filed a formal complaint regarding sexual harassment and was subsequently transferred to the Laredo Detention Center. Another woman, named Esmeralda, also came forward to claim she was abused by the same guard as Ana.

Following interviews with Monterrosa, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement that it found Monterrosa’s claims unsubstantiated in a joint investigation with the Williamson County Sheriff's Office. This statement was not communicated to Monterrosa, who has been “left in the dark” according to Grassroots Leadership researcher and immigration organizer Bethany Carson.

Rewire interviewed Christina M. Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), who spoke on ICE’s secrecy in hiding abuses of power within detention. Fialho stated, “If more people knew what was truly happening behind locked doors, I think there would be an outcry against the immigrant prison system. So, ICE has an incentive to keep the public in the dark about what is happening behind locked doors. What better way to do this than to deny that any problems exist? By adopting a head-in-the-sand approach and declaring sexual assault complaints ‘unfounded,’ ICE and its contracted facility guards can continue to perpetrate rights [abuses].”

While sexual assault remains underreported in detention, CIVIC analyzed sexual assault reports from detention through a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Attorney General. The investigation uncovered that between January 2010 and July 2016, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against DHS’s component agencies. But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases” (CIVIC).

Carson stated that Williamson County Sheriff’s Department contacted advocates prior to a press conference on December 4 to state that the FBI would handle the investigation. Questions remained, however, regarding the facility and governing agencies’ prior investigation: “If they do follow PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act], a policy for allegations is required, and now that the FBI has stepped in, everyone has kind of thrown their hands up and bucked responsibility for how it was initially handled—and we don’t even know how it was handled. This is all highly problematic,” Carson said.

Describing the issue as “extremely pervasive,” Carson added, “What is happening to Laura is endemic of detention centers and almost impossible to completely eliminate unless we eliminate detention centers.”

Texas Prison Bid’ness will continue to report on Monterrosa’s case and the developing investigation by the FBI as it is reported.

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