The Exploitation of Sexual Victimization for Political Agendas
–Laura Zárate & Aline Jesus Rafi, 11.5.2009
Arte Sana, Alianza Latina en contra la Agresión Sexual (ALAS: national Latina victim advocate alliance
against sexual violence) members and allies decry the recent horrific news that a group of young men
raped a California student while bystanders did nothing.
We are also shocked and saddened by an almost knee-jerk reaction by some in the national and online
media and special interest blogs to:
• Assume that this sexual assault may be part of a “gang initiation” because Latino perpetrators
• Offer as a possible ‘defense’ the possibility that the victim may have been ‘a willing participant’ in
the possible ‘gang initiation’.
Subsequent assumptions have included:
• That this may be a ‘Mexican-on-white’ crime.
• That this is yet another component of a ‘broken borders’ crime wave.
Sexual violence is a seriously underreported crime that lends itself to sensationalistic fodder for media
outlets and ammunition for bigoted groups and public figures to embolden their hate agendas.
No group, regardless of their ethnic, racial origin, residency or economic status holds a monopoly of
sexual assault in the United States. Rape and all forms of sexual violence are perpetrated by religious
leaders, famous movie producers, members of beloved musical groups, athletes, schoolteachers and
military personnel. Even those who receive government defense contracts to defend US interests in
Iraq have been accused of perpetrating all forms of sexual violence including gang rape.
Yet, the recent victim-blaming and bigoted assumptions regarding the tragic rape by multiple
perpetrators of a high school student indicate just how much our perception of this crime is forced
through the lens of race and immigration debates.
The demonization of youth and especially young men of color reinforces racial stereotypes, promotes
hostility and violence against particular groups, and does nothing to address the causes of sexual
The exploitation of sexual violence by anti-immigrant hate groups to further demonize all Latino males is
also evidenced through broken border “rape tree” references by mainstream media (recently legitimized
by a television program that focuses on victims of sex crimes). The origins of this alleged phenomena
can be traced to Minutemen Project blog posts in 2005. Rather than focus on prevention and the needs
of immigrant victims of rape and human trafficking, the context in which the term "rape tree" has been
utilized by the media and hate groups has only served to stereotype all immigrants as a threat to
humanity. This dehumanizing focus distracts from the ongoing revictimization of countless Hispanic
victims of sexual assault who do not know what a rape crisis center is, and who cannot access victim
services because of a grave lack of resources, bilingual staff, volunteers, services and in some cases,
limited political will to serve all victims equally.
Furthermore, the focus on ethnic and racial backgrounds on the sexual violence discourse also renders
communities of color in general as part of the problem rather than promising partners for
solutions. Every rape that goes unreported, every group that is scapegoated contributes to violence in
our daily lives.
All of us should denounce every effort, however subtle, to exploit sexual victimization as a means to
further any political hate agendas. Rather than endorsing a culture of hate and violence where rape is
allowed to occur and silence and inaction by bystanders are encouraged, this horrific crime can be yet
another chance where people can come together to learn about the realities of sexual violence, and
evaluate the role we each can play in ending it.
ALAS Member support: Rosa Herrin in
Louisiana, Clara G. Lindstrom in Oregon,
Linnette Garcia in Indiana, Diana Perez in
Colorado, Stephanie Mesones in California,
María Busineau in Connecticut, Sandy Garza,
Rose Luna, and Gracie Villegas in Texas,
Wendy Aguilar in Massachusetts, Maria
Elena Espinoza in Nevada, Celia Granados in
Illinois, as well as additional members in
California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan,
New Jersey, and Texas.
Agency and organization endorsements:
The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
Women of Color Network - a national organization based in Pennsylvania
Allianza National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services
Texas Association Against Sexual Assault
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Florida Council Against Sexual Violence
Enlace Comunitario in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center (SAVA) based in Colorado
Latinas Unidas por un Nuevo Amanecer (L.U.N.A.) based in Iowa
El Refugio, Inc in Silver City, New Mexico
San Francisco Women Against Rape, SFWAR
LA VIDA Latin@s Contra la Violencia Intima en el Suroeste de Detroit
Personal endorsements from
comadres/allies who also support this
Rosa Corrales-Ortiz inTexas
Vikki O'Neil Allen in Colorado
María P. Guerra, TESSA in Colorado
Patricia S. Castillo in Texas
Mily Trevino-Sauceda, President of Emeritus
of Líderes Campesinas, in California
A.M. in Iowa
B.A.P. in New Mexico
Initiated in 2004 by Arte Sana, the Alianza Latina en
contra la Agresión Sexual (ALAS) is a national Latina-led
membership network of victim advocates working to address
and prevent sexual violence. Through collaborative efforts
and cyber activism, ALAS promotes the leadership of Latina
victim advocates and develops models, resources and
policies to empower communities and eliminate access
barriers for survivors. ALAS honors the diversity of the
Latin@ culture by respecting the similarities and differences
of our languages and histories.