The Ways Border Patrol Hides Its Rape Culture
I wish I could have said I was surprised, but I wasn’t. When ProPublica released their infamous article about Border Patrol’s private Facebook group in July of 2019, my phone lit up with messages from reporters for weeks. Yes, this was entirely consistent with what I knew about the Patrol. Yes, I expected high-ranking agents to be involved. No, I wasn’t surprised that former Chief Carla Provost was a member or that the current Chief, Rodney Scott was as well. His excuse that the agents needed to blow off steam from time to time was a typical “boys will be boys” or “it’s just locker room talk” excuse I’d always heard from management.
The only thing shocking about Border Patrol’s “I’m 10–15” Facebook group was that Congress allowed the agency to investigate itself. This struct me as odd seeing that the Border Patrol does not have investigative authority under 1811 federal series of employment like the FBI and other agencies do. This, I told reporters, would lead to coverups and minor punishments for agents. They would refuse to release the names of agents and claim it was a matter of privacy or even national security.
That was exactly what happened.
I know intimately how the structure, the system, the institution that is the Border Patrol works. There are many ways that the Border Patrol hides their robust rape culture that depend on who the victim is. Complaints made by migrant victims are often ignored or cleared as unsubstantiated. Agents deport or return their victims to Mexico and they are never heard from again. Most victims do not have the means to afford an attorney after all, and even if they did, they fear a complaint would affect their asylum cases. Additionally, migrants often come from countries that have similar corruption problems in their police forces. They know it is a waste of time, and can result in more harm coming to them or their families.
As you can imagine, rape culture does not stay within the agency. Where the agents go, the culture goes. This means agents bring the abuse home to their families. Established in 1996, the Lautenberg Amendment was meant to address this by making it illegal for law enforcement officers to carry a gun if they are convicted of felony or the subject of a domestic violence protection order. To get around this, Border Patrol management will often speak with agents’ spouses and convince them to not file charges or request orders. They remind them that if their abusers cannot work, they cannot support them or their children. Even if spouses leave, they have a need to not report the agents because they are often reliant on their income.
If the rape culture exists when dealing with migrants and spouses, it obviously must be present for female and even some male agents as well. My own rape in 1995 by a fellow agent in the academy is well documented. James Tomsheck, former Commissioner of CBP Internal Affairs has documented his encounter with agents participating in rape games within the academy in the early 2000s. In 2019, Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Gus Zamora was arrested and charged with kidnapping and raping a junior female agent. A quick Google search will provide you with a long list of Border Patrol agents arrested for sexual assaults, rapes and even pedophilia.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
When an agent is the victim of a sexual assault by another agent, management most often leads the victim away from pressing criminal charges and towards filing an EEOC complaint (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). It’s important to understand that agents believe they are in a para-military organization. Disputes and crimes between agents are normally handled through the chain of command. As trainees in the academy, agents are told that management prefers to handle these problems within the agency, to not bring outside law into the Patrol’s family. I and many other women are never given the option of filing criminal charges. We were and are still are pushed into filing EEOC in today’s Patrol.
What I did not understand back then, and what many agents who become victims today do not understand is that the system that is EEOC was developed by men to not so much address these complaints, but to hide them. Victims are required to report their complaints to management first. This results in the rumor mill starting. Agents who complain become targets for further harassment and retaliation or lack of backup in the field. It is common for them to simply give up, quit and try and move on as was done by the victim in Tomsheck’s case.
If management is unable to address the problem, then the victim can file with EEOC. The offending agent is able to use attorneys from the Border Patrol Union to defend themselves, but the victim is required to use the same Union for representation as well. This is a clear conflict of interest. The victim’s only other means of defense is to hire one from their own pockets. Additionally, EEOC complaints can take six, eight, ten years just to get to the point of admitting there was an assault. At this point, the victim will be given the opportunity to receive monetary compensation that normally comes with a settlement in which they must agree to not speak of the crimes.
What happens to the offenders? Well, we don’t really know. You see the system created by our government requires absolute privacy. Nothing is known about the agents who rape other agents. Are they allowed to keep their jobs? Do they have allegations from their spouses? From migrants? Are they required to seek counseling, given days off without pay, have their guns taken away? How often do violent crimes like the one Tomsheck spoke of become an EEOC complaint when it should be handled by the justice system? How can the government address the rape culture?
The truth is that we just don’t know because EEOC does not allow for any study of their casework. We have no idea how often this happens in the Border Patrol, if there are repeat offenders, if offenders are still on the job sexually assaulting more victims. The fact that the agency has never been able to maintain more than 5% female agents gives you an idea as this is much lower than other federal law enforcement agencies.
I confess, I have no idea how to remedy this. I do know that we cannot even begin to evaluate the extent of the problem if we don’t know how extensive it is. I am not sure if an executive order from the president or action by Congress would be required. While I understand the reasons for privacy, it is also clear that the Border Patrol has used the EEOC system to hide documentation of these crimes. Unlike the victims who are migrants or spouses, this is a wealth of documented evidence that already exists and will undoubtedly shine a bright light on the problem of rape culture within the agency. Experts could maintain privacy by not using names. EEOC could redact victims’ names easily.
Recently, the House Oversight Committee admitted that Chief Rodney Scott and proud rape culture defender has refusedto turn over any of the investigation of the “I’m 10–15” group to Congress. If we are serious about cleaning up these agencies and ending rape culture, we cannot allow agencies like the Border Patrol to continue using a system like EEOC to coverup and disappear their crimes.
Congress and/or the White House must open up these files for study by sexual assault experts. “I’m 10–15” is just a small portion of the Patrol’s rape culture. If Congress really wants to hold the agency accountable, they will make this happen.