As a researcher for the WomanStats Project, I read about heinous crimes committed against women across the globe every single day. With every new article or government report I realize the great extent to which my status as an American citizen has sheltered me from these great perils. And I am grateful. As a young girl growing up in South Florida, things such as female genital mutilation, honor killings, capture marriages, female infanticide, and rape as a weapon of war never crossed my mind. I’m sure that would not have been the case had I been born somewhere else. That is not to say that our nation is without error. However, one would be safe in assuming that a woman from a country like India, for example, who moved to the United States would have an overall safer, healthier, happier life.
A few months ago, I met an Indian woman who had undergone this exact transition. As a divorcee in India, she was ostracized for her failed marriage, as there is still a strong social stigma in Indian culture. She came to the United States in order to make a new life for herself. She was excited for the many opportunities before her that would not have been available to her as a woman in India. In attempt to make the most of the independence at her fingertips, this woman decided to take driving lessons in order to receive a driver’s license- a precious emblem of autonomy and mobility. Instead of this newfound liberty, she was raped by her driving instructor. Soon thereafter, she discovered she was pregnant. Instead of being rightfully behind bars, her rapist now has visitation rights with her son.
When asked why she chose not to press charges, her answer was heart-wrenching. She was afraid that she would be deported, seeing as her visa status was still in limbo. She did not trust that the American legal system would uphold the justice it propagates; rather she feared that her reporting of a crime would further jeopardize her already precarious situation. This sheds great light on our legal priorities. What does our collective morality deem to be the graver sin, illegal immigration or rape? The supposed robbing of jobs and resources, or the robbing of dignity?
In December of 2012, the horrific story of a Delhi gang rape exploded in the international media. People all over the world were enraged and several protests were held throughout India. Make no mistake- I celebrate this reaction. But at the same time I shudder to imagine just how many stories like my friend’s are silenced. There was no public outrage or condemnation from UN Women on her behalf. No, instead she must revisit her trauma regularly, whenever her rapist feels like dropping in. This is not a story in some far-away “backwards” poverty-ridden land. Nor is this a rare case. 19% of minority women in the U.S. have reported a rape at some point in their lifetime (Tjaden and Thoennes, 2006). This keeps happening here and now, in our own backyard, to our own neighbors. Marginalization and discrimination is not just occurring, it is expected and accepted as part of the risk these women take in coming to America. “Their justice is theirs, it’s not for people like me.” People like me. Minority women.
No matter where you are in the world, one thing seems to always hold true. That is, being a minority woman is never good news. Even in the “land of the free”, some of the bravest of individuals do not feel at home.