A Salvadoran woman who came forward four months ago with allegations of sexual assault by a guard has been released from the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas, where her abuser remained employed for the bulk of her detainment.
Laura Monterrosa was released from detention Friday evening after a months-long campaign by the advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership, culminating with a letter to the Department of Homeland Security signed by more than 45 Congressional representatives calling for an investigation into sexual abuse allegations at Texas detention centers. The members of Congress demanded an expedited audit to assess Hutto’s compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Getting released from detention has been a long road for Monterrosa, who Grassroots Leadership says is “adjusting to her new environment and recovering from the trauma she has experienced.”
In November, Monterrosa released a letter to the public outlining the abuse she said she experienced at Hutto by a guard employed by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the for-profit company that contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to run the facility. More women then came forward with allegations of abuse. Monterrosa in a phone interview with Rewire.News said her abuser was still employed at Hutto and that sexual abuse is “very widespread” at the detention center.
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“It is a big problem in this place,” Monterrosa said.
Many allegations of sexual abuse have emerged from Hutto. A CoreCivic guard was accused in 2007 of sexually assaulting a woman “while her son was sleeping in his crib inside the cell,” according to Courthouse News. In 2010, another CoreCivic guard was charged with sexually assaulting eight women whom he was tasked with transporting. CoreCivic appeared to experience no ramifications for allowing male guards to transport women detained in Hutto, despite having a signed agreement with ICE that does not allow male guards to transfer women detainees alone.
Advocates with Grassroots Leadership demanded a criminal investigation into Monterrosa’s allegations, but ICE and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction over Hutto, failed to act. After investigating itself, ICE reported on November 22 that it found Monterrosa’s allegations to be “unsubstantiated,” and the agency continued employing the guard accused of assault.
In December, the FBI took over the investigation, but Monterrosa’s mental health began to decline, as she still regularly encountered her abuser at Hutto and reported that ICE was retaliating against her by using solitary confinement. Monterrosa attempted suicide in January after being placed in solitary confinement, alleging that a Hutto guard was demanding she no longer work with Grassroots Leadership. Monterrosa said the Hutto guard told her that unless she recanted her claims of sexual assault, she would be placed in solitary “indefinitely.”
More than 500 women remain detained in Hutto, subjected to the same system. “Our hearts are full knowing that Laura does not need to spend any more time at Hutto,” Grassroots Leadership’s Bethany Carson said in a statement, “but we will not stop fighting until every injustice at Hutto is addressed and the facility is closed once and for all.”
“Despite facing retaliation inside, including solitary confinement, Laura showed incredible courage in speaking out to tell her story,” said Claudia Muñoz, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “This is a huge victory for Laura, for all the women who have organized and spoken out, and for the community that came to their support.”