Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention - Sarah's Story



Sarah is a young woman in her early twenties from a country in Africa. She is the eldest of eight children; her mother is a home maker, and her father is in the military. In her country, children may attend school in their hometowns through eleventh grade. Students who wish to complete twelfth grade and possibly continue on to college are required to complete a term of national service at a military base which has a school on site. While completing her twelfth grade year and her national service assignment, Sarah was beaten and raped repeatedly by a military commander whom she was assigned to serve. The commander told Sarah he could do anything he wanted to her; that it was futile for her to resist him; that no one would believe her if she reported him; and that if she did report the rapes, he would kill her and also have her father, a soldier in the national service, put in prison.

Sarah’s cousin, who was completing his national service at the same base, saw her crying once after one of the attacks and asked her why. She confided in him, and he planned their escape. He hired a smuggler and after several weeks, during which time the military commander continued to assault Sarah, Sarah and her cousin stole away from the military base. They walked for days through a thorny desert, knowing if they were caught they would be returned to the base and punished or thrown in one of her country’s infamous underground prisons where people are routinely tortured. Sarah and her cousin finally reached a safe house in a neighboring African country. From there they travelled to that country’s capital, located in a Muslim area where Islamic dress codes are strictly enforced. Sarah, a Catholic, wore a burqa and stayed indoors as much as possible. It took her cousin several months to arrange the next legs of Sarah’s journey. A family member living abroad helped finance Sarah’s escape.

Following the smuggler’s instructions, Sarah travelled from Africa to Dubai, where she was met by another smuggler. She spent a night in Dubai, then continued on to Moscow. From Moscow she flew to Cuba, and from Cuba on to Ecuador. She spent several months in Ecuador planning her migration to the United States. Ultimately, she travelled to Nicaragua, then to Guatemala, then into Mexico, and finally to the U.S. - Mexico border. Sarah chose the United States because she heard it was the safest country and a democracy where everyone’s rights were respected. She planned to seek asylum in the United States and believed that once she reached this country, she would no longer have to be afraid of being hurt or assaulted and she would be able to finish her studies.

Sarah was taken into custody after entering the United States without inspection and transferred to several facilities before reaching Hutto. At Hutto, an immigration official interviewed Sarah to determine whether she had a credible fear of persecution if she returned to her home country. After hearing Sarah’s story, the immigration officer concluded that Sarah did have a credible fear of persecution, and therefore a basis to seek asylum in the United States.  Sarah was told she would be released from Hutto provided she could post a bond. A family member paid the bond, and a few days later Sarah found out the bond was approved.


I found out in the evening that my bond had been posted and I would be leaving the next day.  They woke me up at 2 am to go to the airport. Someone gave me my property and took me to the facility’s office. I signed some papers and waited there.  A driver came to and the same man who asked me to sign the papers walked me to the vehicle. I got into the vehicle. It was a prison car – from the inside you cannot see anything, everything is dark and you are surrounded by metal.

After a while the driver stopped and came around to the door and unlocked the cage. He told me to get out. I could see that it was very dark, and I got out, and I could see that there was nothing moving anywhere nearby. He had pulled the car off the road.  I was scared because it was nighttime and I could not think why he would need to get off the road and search me at that moment.

He told me to take off my jacket and I did. He took the document I was holding and put it in the car. There was a small building nearby and he told me to walk over to it and face the wall. He began to search me but I was very scared and I could tell it was not a normal search because he was touching my hair and then he touched me all over. He gestured for me to take off my shoes, then he searched me all over my front. I was so scared, I did not look at him and I did not say anything, I just stared straight ahead.

He gave me back my jacket and told me to get in the front seat of the car with him. As he was doing this I was having a flashback to what happened to me in my home country. I thought, this man is never going to take me to the airport, he is going to take me to a certain place where he will do whatever he wants to me.

He turned on some loud music and started driving. Until I saw it I did not believe we were going to the airport. I prayed to God, I said God this is the last time.  If I survive this, hopefully I will be safe when I reach my family members.

When we got to the airport he gave me my papers, and I went inside and that was it. I did not believe that I was safe until I reached my family. I thought it was possible that the driver who touched me could find me.  I never told my family what happened. It brings back memories of what happened to me in my home country. I am trying hard to get past it. 

A few months later some officials called my family looking for me and they came looking for me. They said they wanted to speak with me in person.  I thought it was about my immigration case. They came to my house unannounced.   Neither of the people who came spoke my language and they did not bring an interpreter. When they showed me a picture of Donald Dunn, I did not want to show a reaction, but I was very surprised. Because they did not speak my language, we could not communicate until I called a friend, who put me on the phone with someone nearby who translated for me. I had to tell this person who I did not even know what happened to me. I was very uncomfortable and I tried to answer their questions as simply and quickly as possible. It was a very difficult interaction and I did not understand many of the things they asked me. 

Even after I reached my family I was afraid Donald Dun could find me. I did not know the law of this country and did not know what he could do to me. Especially after I told the officials what happened I was afraid he would find out. In my home country this is exactly what can get you into trouble, if you tell what happened to you, and after all that had happened to me I did not know if in this country it would be different. I was afraid for my safety and for my immigration case.


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