Josie, an adolescent girl from El Salvador, is thriving in the United States. She is living with a foster family and attends high school, where she was recently chosen as the school’s “Student of the Month.” Josie hopes to graduate high school and attend college.
Josie has overcome extreme challenges to get to where she is today. As a young girl, she was raped and suffered severe depression as a result. She moved to the United States with her father, who mistreated her physically and emotionally. Josie’s father was eventually deported, and she was sent to live with a family member who made inappropriate sexual advances toward her, exacerbating her trauma and leading her to attempt suicide.
Josie was referred to KIND, where she was matched with an attorney to represent her claim for protection in the United States and received support to ensure she was placed in a safe environment.
Every day, KIND works with girls from Central America who, like Josie, have fled sexual and gender-based violence and come to the United States in search of safety. Girls growing up in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras face extremely high rates of sexual and gender-based violence, including gang-related sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and sexual abuse by family members. These forms of violence are highly normalized and in many cases are never reported to authorities.
When survivors report these forms of violence, they face a barrage of obstacles to obtaining protection and justice, including slow and arduous judicial processes and rampant discrimination and re-victimization within the judicial and child protection systems. In the vast majority of cases, perpetrators of these crimes are never punished, and children remain vulnerable to ongoing violence. Left unprotected by their own governments, many of these girls are forced to flee their countries in search of safety.
Girls who have fled sexual and gender-based violence in their countries face numerous obstacles to achieving safety and well-being even after they have reached the United States. The violence they have experienced causes severe and lasting trauma, which often manifests itself in fear, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness. In many cases, survivors of violence do not have access to the linguistically and culturally appropriate medical and mental health care they need to heal from the trauma they have experienced.
The U.S. immigration system presents additional obstacles: some children are separated from family members and detained for extended periods of time, experiences that can be especially traumatic for girls who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. They are obligated to present their cases for protection to a judge or asylum officer, in many cases without an attorney. Fear and uncertainty regarding their immigration case leads to increased stress and anxiety. At the same time, these girls’ undocumented status and lack of access to stable housing and financial resources leave them vulnerable to continued sexual violence and exploitation while in the United States.
Despite all these immense hurdles, Josie and other immigrant and refugee girls who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence demonstrate incredible strength and resilience while working hard to build new lives in the United States. On International Women’s Day, KIND celebrates the courage of these girls, as we continue to ensure that they have access to representation, safe and supportive environments, and the medical and mental health services they need to heal and thrive.