Zorayda Ávila, Truthout
On the night that changed everything, I was only five blocks from home. I heard many stories of domestic violence in my area, but never imagined it would happen to me. My heart was beating a thousand miles an hour, and I could not even find the words to speak. All I could do was run, while he chased me down in his car. When I ran into the street, a taxi stopped, and I thought I might be saved. But all it took was for him to yell “Don’t get involved!” for the taxi driver to speed off, taking my hope with him. I ran faster, but he caught me, grabbed me by the neck and whispered, “Today you will meet your death.”
From that moment on, I felt trapped in a circle of violence. Escaping it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Like many women, I confronted a criminal legal system that was complicated and hostile. Even when I called the police, they questioned my motives, cast doubt on my memories and seemed inclined to believe my abuser rather than me. I have since learned that my story is not unique. Many immigrant women find themselves at the mercy of a hostile legal system in their home countries. When they flee that violence and seek safety in the United States, the systems that should protect them fall into the same cruel patterns.
As a domestic violence victim, the first thing you lose is your self-confidence. You feel victimized again and again. Making the decision to flee and leave everything you know behind requires tremendous strength and courage. This decision often comes with no guarantees, but as time goes by, it feels less like an option and more like the only path to survival. For me, it was the first step to reclaiming my life and bringing back the person I once was.
Like me, women across Central America and Mexico are constantly being forced to flee due to gender-based violence. In my home country of Mexico, there are 10 femicides every day — women who are murdered simply for being women. In light of this ongoing violence, many municipalities across Mexico have declared a “gender alert” — the first mechanism of its kind to protect the human rights of women via research protocols on femicides and programs aimed at its prevention, as well as reforms to eliminate inequality in legislation and public policy. Yet, the deaths of our sisters, mothers and daughters continue to rise. As of May 2019, there were a reported 311 femicides in Mexico this year alone.
While violence across Mexico and Central America has reached horrific levels for everyone, women are especially targeted due to the history of “machismo” that continues to take its toll. In El Salvador, a woman is murdered every 24 hours from femicide. In Honduras, a woman is murdered every 18 hours; and in Guatemala, 253 women were killed from January to June of 2018.
Unfortunately, like me, many women find there is no justice for them at home. Survival meant leaving everything I knew, but I was able to build a new life. Yet today, women fleeing from violence across Central America and Mexico are being victimized at home and then again by the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies. After making the brave choice to escape abusers — and in many cases, suffering other forms of social, economic and even political violence along the migration route — they are revictimized all over again by the very process that should guarantee their safety. Migration officials look us in the face, hear our stories and decide we are not enough.
The Trump administration’s policies target migrants from Mexico and Central America by disqualifying victims of domestic and gang violence from asking for protection and asylum in the United States. The U.S. government has gone as far as to bully and declare “safe” the same countries from which women, children and families are fleeing en masse. These policies are condemning women like me to death.
It is time for victims of domestic violence and our allies — of all ages and nationalities — to stand in solidarity with the women who must not only navigate violence from their aggressors but also the hate-filled policies of irresponsible politicians. We cannot leave our sisters, mothers and daughters alone in this battle. This is a battle for our right to exist. The current policies attempt to erase our truth in the service of a cruel and racist agenda. We demand that domestic violence be acknowledged as a qualifier for asylum and safety in the United States. We will not be erased.
Zorayda Ávila is the campaign and outreach director at Alianza Americas, a network of Latin American and Caribbean immigrant organizations in the United States working transnationally to create an inclusive, equitable and sustainable way of life. Zorayda is also part of the “Colectivo de Mujeres Transnacionales.” Zorayda is from Michoacán, México, and has lived in the United States since 2006.
Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.