A letter from inside a controversial detention center contains new reports of sexual assault and retaliation against women detained in an immigrant detention center near Austin. The T. Don Hutto detention center, which imprisons asylum-seeking women, has been at the center of sexual assault scandals before. One former guard was even incarcerated for multiple assaults.
Now, a letter sent by L.M. (the woman’s initials) from inside the Hutto detention center describes her and others’ experiences of sexual assault and retaliation and names two guards as perpetrators. The facility in Taylor, Texas, is operated for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by the private prison company commonly known as Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, (which prefers to be called by its new corporate identity “CoreCivic” to obscure their three-decades long history). Guards at the facility are employees of the private prison company.
The letter describes a pattern of sexual assault that L.M. has endured since June. She writes that a female guard forced her into sexual acts against her will. “She harassed me, telling me threatening words and forcing me to have unwanted relations with her, which I did not want, but I had to do what she wanted,” she described. “She looked for or took advantage of every moment she could to touch my breasts or my legs, she knew where and when she did it, I don’t remember dates because there are many. She worked in the recreation area and what she did with me she did with other residents.”
We demand Williamson County conduct a just and transparent investigation into L.M.’s reports of sexual assault!
L.M. initially broke her silence to a trusted community member who is part of Grassroots Leadership’s visitation program. L.M. said another woman was accused of lying and removed after making a sexual assault complaint. She says this type of retaliation inside the detention center is endemic with asylum-seekers who report abuses regularly threatened with transfer or deportation.
We have every reason to believe L.M. We have heard reports of retaliation inside Hutto before, most notoriously during a hunger strike in November of 2015. The retaliation tactics that L.M. describes are familiar to those who know Hutto’s short but nasty history.
L.M. is now bravely choosing to speak out despite the risks because she wants to see change at the facility. Yesterday, Williamson County Sheriff’s deputies interviewed her inside Hutto, but ICE was present. Despite bravely recounting her experiences to the deputies, she was treated like she was the suspect. Throughout the interview, L.M. was treated with suspicion, disrespect, and deputies dismissed her testimony. Reliving a sexual assault during an interrogation is a recognized source of retraumatization for survivors. The poor treatment L.M. endured only makes a horrible situation worse.
Importantly, L.M. named two witnesses to her assault. That means they can start their investigation immediately, if they are truly interested in justice for L.M.
There was a very troubling development on Sunday morning when we learned that all computer access had been shut down in the facility, effectively cutting off one of the few ways women can communicate with community members, lawyers, and family. What legitimate reason would there be to limit the ability of the women detained inside to communicate with those on the outside?
All the while, L.M. and others continue to resist. The guard who has been assaulting L.M. has also escalated her threats, which have become more menacing. “She began to tell me she liked me, and that whatever she liked belonged to her, and every time, her words became more absurd as she told me that she loved me and that she wasn’t going to let anyone humiliate her,” L.M. writes.
The courage that L.M. has shown during this entire ordeal is breathtaking. If you’re inspired by her strength and dignity in the face of all this, stand behind L.M. and the other women in Hutto right now and sign the petition to demand a just and transparent investigation by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office.