Andrássy út is one of the grand boulevards of Budapest, lined with stately townhouses and mansions, many of which serve as embassies today. But one building in this row is not like the rest: Andrássy út 60. This address sends a shudder through all Hungarians, for it housed the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi party during WWII and the Russian secret police until 1956. Today, it serves as Budapest’s Terror Museum, well worth a visit if you’re finding the city a little too charming.
When last I was at the Museum, the exhibit included the personnel photographs of the staff who tortured and killed people in the cellar of the building. I have looked closely at these images for a clue to the depravity and cruelty of those torturers, but they look no different than bureaucrats anywhere. They could be postal clerks in Switzerland.
But here’s the interesting thing. Many of them worked first for the Nazis and then for the Communists. In the same capacity. For these people, torture was not a matter of protecting society or ideological conviction. They tortured people because they were good at it, or because they liked it. It was a perk of the job.
If you check the literature, you will find that most sources estimate the rate of rape of migrant women entering the US illegally at 30-80%, with 60% the most commonly cited number. About one quarter of the crossers apprehended by Border Patrol are women, on a total attempted crossings we forecast at about 1.1 million in 2018. Do the math, and that comes out at 164,000 girl and women migrants who will be raped this year trying to enter the US illegally from Mexico.
I shared this number with the head of a respected think tank, a thoughtful and entirely decent man, who all but called me a liar. How could there possibly be one hundred thousand rapes annually on the border? It seems incredible.
According to Princeton University’s Mexican Migration Project, about 80% of illegal crossers use coyote guides, men who are increasingly associated with the Mexican crime cartels. Crossers are extraordinarily dependent on coyotes during the journey through the desert which can last eight or nine days. Abandonment by a coyote can mean death or apprehension by US Border Patrol. Therefore, migrants are vulnerable to demands which coyotes may make en route.
And what sort of demands might these guides make?
As at Andrássy út 60, sooner or later, the guides will be those who are good at their jobs or value the total compensation package the most – including the perks. Eight days means eight nights. That is a long time in the desert. Sexual predation is not some random criminal event during a crossing. In many cases, it is literally part of the price of passage. Indeed, coyotes often advise their female clients to go on birth control prior to the journey. From PBS:
That was the case for Maria Salinas, a petite 43-year-old who recently tried crossing with her 18-year-old daughter. Salinas said at first she was confused when a guide at the start of the trip offered her and other women pills he said would prevent pregnancy. Later, it made more sense.
Once Salinas started walking with the group, she couldn’t keep up. One coyote said he’d help – on one condition.
“If I gave him my daughter, then he’d wait for me,” Salinas said. Meaning, if she let him have sex with her daughter. She refused, and he abandoned them. They only survived because they found Border Patrol.
This is not rape in the sense that my think tank friend assumed. It is not a random criminal event. This is rape – or coerced sex – as a business proposition, as an industry. It exists entirely due to the lawlessness of a black market in migrant labor. If they lacked the opportunity, most of the coyotes would not be rapists, just as most of the interrogators at Andrassy út 60 would not have tortured people as a hobby. I often sense that my Mexican friends are embarrassed about stories of such malfeasance, because they fear it shows a moral turpitude, that Mexican women are loose and Mexican men are inherently criminal. Given the opportunity, many men would take advantage of women, as did Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby. There is no moral failing unique to Mexicans or migrants.
Rather, poor government policy can create a ‘safe space’ for sadistic impulses and sexual aggression, eventually drawing to the activity those who most value such license. A lawless climate will engender lawless behavior.
The moral culpability lies with those who know better, with US political, academic and journalistic leadership who have failed to create and maintain order in migrant policy.
This problem cannot be solved by more border enforcement. That will only further shift the power to the coyotes. But if you had given Ms. Salinas, the woman mentioned in the story above, the option of paying $4,000 each for herself and her daughter -- the equivalent of the current coyote fee -- for entry into the US, she would have paid it without hesitation. For then she would not have had to cross the desert, for eight days and nights, at the mercy of the coyote.