An immigrant woman sued a private prison company on Wednesday alleging she was raped inside an ICE detention center in Texas that resulted in her giving birth to her attacker's daughter.
The woman, identified in the complaint as Jane Doe, was detained at the Houston Processing Center, operated by CoreCivic, a private prison company paid by the federal government, for about three months in 2018. The afternoon before Doe, a Mexican citizen, was supposed to be deported to Mexico, she and two other women were taken from an area that normally housed a group of 20 to 30 detainees and moved to a dark, isolated cell, the complaint states.
Around midnight, three men in streetwear entered the cell and sexually assaulted all of the women. One of them slapped and punched Doe's face before twisting her hand behind her back, according to the complaint. Terrified, Doe said she tried to resist being raped, but ultimately stopped because her attacker kept hitting her.
The women were deported the next day on June 2, 2018, via bus without the chance to shower, Doe with bruises on her face and another woman with a busted lip, according to the lawsuit.
Doe said shortly after returning to Mexico, she discovered she was pregnant. She knew it was from the rape because she hadn't had sex for two years before being attacked or anytime between the assault and the birth of her daughter in 2019, the complaint states.
"This nightmare has caused me great harm and stress. I hope the United States government and the directors of these private jails prevent this violence from happening to others," Doe said in a recorded statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
In a statement, CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, said the company had not been served with the complaint and doesn't comment on pending litigation.
"More broadly, we are committed to the safety and dignity of every detainee entrusted to our care. We have a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment," CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said.
ICE said in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation, but said lack of comment should not be taken as agreement with any of the allegations.
"ICE employees and contractors are held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct," the agency said. "Incidents of misconduct are treated with the utmost seriousness and investigated thoroughly. When substantiated, appropriate action is taken."
Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a Dallas-based attorney representing Doe, said what her client had endured was the stuff of nightmares.
"This probably happens more often than reported," Simpson Tuegel told BuzzFeed News.
A report created by CoreCivic and submitted to the government found there were at least eight allegations of sexual assault made against employees at the Houston Processing Center in 2017. According to the company, one was substantiated and seven were unfounded. There were also four reported sexual assaults between detainees reported in 2017, with one substantiated, two unsubstantiated, and one unfounded.
Even if a report is made, very few sexual and physical abuse allegations against agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, are investigated by US officials, according to a 2017 analysis using government data.
Freedom for Immigrants, an advocacy organization formerly known as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, found that of at least 33,126 complaints between January 2010 and July 2016, officials investigated just 225 of the complaints, or 0.07%. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which released the figures used in the analysis, did conduct 570 total investigations of sexual and physical abuse, but only 225 arose from a complaint.
Even though her client was deported, Simpson Tuegel said she still has the right to sue CoreCivic in addition to the three attackers.
"I hope we're able to proceed to the point of a jury trial and let citizens decide if companies should be paid billions of dollars to do this to people," Simpson Tuegel told BuzzFeed News. "If you don't care about the people, you should at least care about rape on the taxpayer's dime."
CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison companies in the US and detains immigrants under contracts with ICE. The company said it generated $1.98 billion in revenue in 2019.
ICE's sprawling immigration detention system, which relies on private prison companies like CoreCivic and Geo Group, has for years been accused of providing substandard medical care. A whistleblower report obtained by BuzzFeed News said three people died in ICE custody after receiving inadequate medical treatment or oversight, and said official reports on a fourth person’s death were “very misleading.”
Doe remains in Mexico and said she continues to suffer mental and physical pain as a result of her rape, the complaint states. Doe said her daughter was born via cesarean section and that she suffered complications during her birth, leading to substantial blood loss and an eight-day hospitalization.
Doe has also suffered from shame within her family after telling them about her sexual assault.
Doe is seeking punitive damages for negligence, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress among other charges. The lawsuit names CoreCivic, the facility's warden Robert Lacy, assistant warden David Price, and the three unidentified men accused of raping the women as defendants.