This Week in Women: What Trump (and the Mainstream Media) Got Wrong About Immigration and Rape

This Week in Women is part of a series produced in partnership between Ms. and the Fuller Project for International Reporting. This column is also part of a newsletter; sign up here to receive it regularly.

Talking Back to Trump on Immigration, Rape and Abortion

Once again, control of and concern for women’s sexuality played a central role in a major news story this week—but more as a political football than as an issue of true value in and of itself.

On Thursday, President Trump’s offhand remark that women immigrating without documentation into the U.S. were being raped “at levels that nobody has ever seen before” set off a firestorm. His press secretary doubled down, reiterating that women and young girls are victimized on the journey north, and that it’s “quite bizarre that reporters would cover this up.”

Plenty of brave journalists have reported on this over the years, but not enough have given this issue its due, and the media reaction today risks marginalizing sexual assault even further. This New York Times story insensitively implied that sexual assault wasn’t happening because people “hadn’t heard about it” even when we know most rapes aren’t reported. And the Washington Post headline said Trump “conjures up a new immigrant rape crisis.”

Sexual assault is real—and the problem here is not that Trump is imagining it, but that he’s leveraging it politically with zero commitment toward helping affected women. He also fails to acknowledge that individuals from U.S. border patrol and police officers as well as smugglers, traffickers and fellow migrants have all been accused of sexual assault.

This is too big an issue to be spun into a political back-and-forth that misses the point. An Amnesty International investigation estimates that as many as 60 percent of women are sexually assaulted on the migrant trail, and Fuller Project’s own reporting has also uncovered the prevalence of sexual assault on migrant women and girls. Journalists must be allowed to continue to report on sexual assault in the future—without being labeled as advancing Trump’s viewpoint.

Abortion, on the other hand, has the full attention of the Trump administration. This morning, The Hill reported that the head of The Office of Refugee Resettlement keeps a spreadsheet of detained refugees who are either pregnant or want abortions. “Creepy” was how this commentator described it.

More Stories from the Week

Winnie Mandela passed away Monday, and as debate “rages” around her legacy, we see how hard it is for some to accept a woman—a black woman—as a powerful leader on her own terms. Many news outlets chose to describe her primarily as wife to Nelson Mandela, instead of leader of a revolutionary movement. Others accused her of cashing in on his name, or of being racist. Would a white man who played a leading role in overthrowing decades of oppressive rule be described asa bully or primarily a husband, or treated with such hostile scrutiny, the Guardian asks. Here’s a balanced quick overview of her life. With women’s legacies too often viewed through a biased lens, it’s no wonder they represent fewer than eight percent of public statues depicting historical figures in the U.S., and none of the 44 memorials maintained by the National Parks Service, according to a 2016 study.

Police identified the shooter at YouTube offices in California as a woman, Nasim Najafi Aghdam, in her 30s. Women have been involved in only 3.75 percent of active shootings, according to a 2014 F.B.I. study of 160 active shooting incidents.

A landmark gender study revealed on Thursday that Rwandan men enrolled in a program for fathers and couples are much less likely to use violence against their female partners and spend almost one hour more per day doing household chores. Given that working with men in this way is a relatively newer approach to ending oppression of women, this study makes a deeply significant contribution to the evidence base.

In Canada, women now make up 44 percent of Canada’s top diplomats, compared to 29 percent three years ago (UK is still only 19 percent). This interesting article out this week tells the story of women in Canada’s foreign service.

On Wednesday Massachusetts passed comprehensive reform to address untested rape kits. Here’s a quick story, and we’ll have a bigger one for you next week.




Christina Asquith is former editor for Across Women’s Lives at PRI’s The World and founder/editor in chief of the Fuller Project for International Reporting, which contributed this story and which works with Peace Is Loud on women, peace and security issues.