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Photo Credit: Master Steve Rapport/Flickr

ICE Claims That Sexually Abusing a Detainee Isn’t a Federal Crime

A woman publicly identified as E.D. was in an ICE detention center in Pennsylvania with her 3-year-old son when she says staff member Daniel Sharkey sexually assaulted her. E.D., 19 and seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing domestic violence in Honduras, claims that Sharkey threatened her and suggested that, if she resisted his advances, she and her son would face deportation.

In E.D.’s lawsuit against Sharkey, the Berks Family Residential Center, a handful of other staff members and ICE, she alleges that this transpired while other workers watched on, encouraging Sharkey.

Sharkey has since admitted guilt to sexual assault on the state level, but he has denied guilt to violating a federal law which explicitly forbids sexual interaction between inmates and prison staff members. In a strange contradiction, Sharkey claims the incident was consensual.

Federal law, however, strictly forbids any sexual interaction between prison staff and inmates, regardless of consent. However, the defense claims that this law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, does not apply to this situation because the Berks Family Residential Center is not technically a prison — even though E.D. was being detained there.

Sadly, E.D.’s case is far from unique.

Official ICE records show that 1,310 acts of sexual abuse against detainees have been reported between 2013 and 2017. And though ICE officials have shrugged this figure off as low, most experts say that this number is likely nowhere near the true number of sexual assaults committed by ICE employees — especially given the large volume of immigrants processed or held in their various facilities, .

Even if the official numbers were accurate, what makes even a single act of sexual assault against a detainee acceptable? This attitude from ICE officials should underscore the mentality that permeates the agency, illustrating how immigrants — and, in particular, vulnerable women — are dehumanized and exploited by people in positions of power.

But it shouldn’t be a surprise. Over a year ago, I wrote about ICE officials seeking permission to amend record keeping policy. In their request to the National Archives and Record Administration, ICE asked that 11 different types of records — including those pertaining to allegations of sexual abuse — be redefined in order to allow them to be destroyed after a shorter period of time.

Was this because ICE is pinching pennies and trying to save money on file storage? Hardly. It isn’t difficult to see that this request is borne out of a desire to avoid accountability.

Although NARA has yet to formally approve or reject this request, a leaked memo from a NARA official to ICE suggested that the agency go forward with these changes on a “temporary” basis.

It is outrageous that a federal agency is going to bat for agency employees who are sexually abusing the people they’re tasked with dealing with — and in these cases, vulnerable women seeking safety and a better life for them and their families. It does not matter one’s political view of immigration, documented or undocumented, this is not debatable: No individual should ever face sexual abuse, especially at the hands of an authority figure.

Originally published at Care2.com on Dec. 2, 2019.

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