FACT CHECK: Are 80% Of Migrant Women Raped On Their Journey To The US?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Friday that up to 80 percent of migrant women traveling through Mexico are raped.

Verdict: True

Estimates vary, but as many as eight in 10 migrant women may be raped by transnational gang members, other migrants or corrupt officials on their journey to the U.S.

Fact Check:

At a tax reform roundtable Thursday, President Donald Trump veered off script to talk at length about illegal immigration. He brought up how a “caravan” of roughly 1,000 Central American migrants, mostly from Honduras, were making their way through Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S.

“And yesterday, it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before,” claimed Trump. “They don’t want to mention that.”

The caravan made headlines last week after Trump repeatedly tweeted about the trek, demanding that the Mexican government stop the migrants before they reached the U.S.

Media outlets criticized his Thursday remarks, saying there were no reports of rape within the caravan. Caravan members told The Daily Mail that sexual predators and human traffickers were at one point “pestering” women for sex, but the caravan had formed patrols to ward them off.

At the White House press briefing the next day, a reporter asked if Sanders could clarify the President’s remarks about reports of rape.

“There was a story – I believe it was the LA Times, I don’t have it here in front of me – that documented some of that,” Sanders replied.

The Los Angeles Times wrote a feature article on the caravan Wednesday, but it only touched briefly on the threat of violence facing migrant women and said nothing about women in the caravan being raped.

Sanders went on to support the President’s remarks with an astounding statistic – up to 80 percent of migrant women journeying through Mexico to reach the U.S. are raped.

“He’s saying that the drug smugglers, the traffickers, the coyotes, this is something that, again, has been in recent years, I know it’s been up to, as high as 80 percent,” she said.

The source of the statistic is a 2014 investigative report by Fusion. “Before they can reach the American Dream, many migrant women have to survive a Mexican nightmare,” reads the report. “A staggering 80 percent of Central American girls and women crossing Mexico en route to the United States are raped along the way, according to directors of migrant shelters interviewed by Fusion.”

Trump cited the same report back in 2015, two weeks after announcing his candidacy for president. After drawing sharp criticism for calling some Mexicans “rapists,” he stood by his remarks during an interview on CNN.

“Well, if you look at the statistics, our people come – I didn’t say about Mexicans. I say the illegal immigrants. If you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country, they’re mind boggling,” said Trump. “If you go to Fusion, you will see a story about 80 percent of the women coming in, I mean, you have to take a look at these stories. And you know who owns Fusion? Univision.”

CNN host Don Lemon pointed out that the Fusion report was about women being raped while passing through Mexico and not about criminals entering the country.

“Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don,” Trump replied. “Well, who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”

According to Fusion, “perpetrators can be coyotes, other migrants, bandits, or even government authorities.”

Migrants will pay people smugglers – or coyotes – to navigate them through Mexico to reach the U.S. Along the way, migrants may be kidnapped by human traffickers, or held as ransom. Women, especially those who travel alone, are susceptible to sexual abuse or rape, and some are forced into prostitution.

“Sexual violence, or the threat of sexual violence, is often used as a means of terrorizing women and their relatives,” says a 2010 report by Amnesty International. “Many criminal gangs appear to use sexual violence as part of the ‘price’ demanded of migrants.”

Local authorities are often complicit, and even train drivers and security guards on the train routes will collude with human traffickers to kidnap women.

The threat of rape is so severe that some women even take contraceptives before embarking on the trip to avoid pregnancy.

The report by Fusion isn’t the only assessment of the dangers faced by women traveling through Mexico. Amnesty International reported in 2010 that up to 60 percent of migrant women are raped, and a 2017 report by Doctors Without Borders estimates that about 31 percent of women face sexual abuse on their journey, while 11 percent are raped or subjected to other direct sexual violence.

It’s possible the incidence of rape is higher than reported, says Amnesty International, as women are often reluctant to discuss sexual assault.

Erin Siegal McIntyre, co-author of the Fusion report and a critic of Trump, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that she considers the 80 percent statistic to be outdated, but failed to elaborate further.

Sanders only claimed that the incidence of rape has been as high as 80 percent “in recent years.” Think tanks, news outlets and inter-governmental organizations continue to cite the 2014 figure.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor

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