They put her in solitary confinement for 7 months. Before that, she was in a prison full of men.

Sadly, Johanna's experience is not the only one. Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of sexual assault.

At 16, Johanna Sanchez was brutally raped by several men in a field in El Salvador.

One of the men said to her, "Faggot, isn't this what you like?"

Johanna decided she had to get out of El Salvador to escape danger, so she ran away to the United States, "where she heard life for women like her would be better."


Why was Johanna's life in danger? And why did the man call her a homophobic slur?

Because, while Johanna is a woman, she is also transgender. And because of her gender identity, Johanna's life is in constant danger.

The bias and hatred against transgender women is very real, as Johanna's story sadly shows. Often, the people who commit violence against transgender women assume that they must be gay men because they might wear make-up or might wear their hair long.

Not only is she a transgender woman, she is a transgender woman who crossed the U.S. border undocumented.

This makes things more complicated. Because, unfortunately, she didn't find help. Instead, she found herself in the immigration detention system.

Johanna was placed in a jail — with men.

    ...being locked up was a nightmare. She was beat up by a male cellmate. Then, guards told her the only safe way to house her was solitary confinement. There, she sat in a 6-by-13-foot cell for 23 hours a day with no human contact and no view of the outside world. She waited for an asylum decision for seven months.

Johanna decided that going back home was far better than being locked up in solitary confinement.

She was deported to El Salvador.

Almost as soon as her plane landed in the San Salvador airport, more nightmares followed.

It didn't end with the gang members. Watch her explain in this video below. (Warning: It's graphic).

Her experience is not an isolated incident.

Trans women of all backgrounds face intolerance everywhere they go. When they end up in the prison system, it only gets worse. And if they're undocumented? That's a triple whammy.

In its investigation, Fusion discovered:

    1 out of every 500 detainees in immigration detention is transgender.

    1 out of every 5 victims of confirmed sexual abuse in detention is transgender.

So while transgender individuals make up a very low number in ICE detention, they are hugely overrepresented as victims of sexual assault.

The National Center for Transgender Equality has more startling statistics about undocumented transgender immigrants (many of whom come to the U.S. to escape prejudice in their home countries).

    1 in 4 undocumented trans people reported physical assault on the job.

    39% of undocumented transgender people have lost jobs due to bias, compared to 27% of transgender U.S. citizens.

    21% of undocumented trans people have been evicted at least once due to bias, which is twice the rate of eviction for the general trans population.

This bias against transgender people is happening in the U.S. even before they are detained. And on top of that, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can legally place transgender women in with men, where they are likely to face physical danger because other inmates — or prison guards — see their gender identity as "unnatural."

So, we have to ask ourselves: Why are we letting this happen in the U.S.? Why are we making life horrible enough for people like her that she decided to go back to El Salvador? Why aren't we providing refuge to more people like Johanna?

More
Courtesy of First Book

We take the ability to curl up with a good story for granted. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to books. For the 32 million American children growing up in low-income families, books are rare. In one low-income neighborhood in Washington, D.C., there is approximately one book for every 800 children. But children need books in their lives in order to do well in school and in life. Half of students from low-income backgrounds start first grade up to two years behind other students. If a child is a poor reader at the end of first grade, there's a 90% chance they're going to be a poor reader at the end of fourth grade.

In order to help close the literacy gap, First Book launched Give a Million, a Giving Tuesday campaign to put one million new, high-quality books in the hands of children. Since 1992, the nonprofit has distributed over 185 million books and educational resources, a value of more than $1.5 billion. Many educators lack the basic educational necessities in their classrooms, and First Book helps provide these basic needs items.

Keep Reading Show less
First Book
True
first-book

I was 10 when my uncle Doug took his own life. I remember my mom getting the phone call and watching her slump down the kitchen wall, hand over her mouth. I remember her having to tell my dad to come home from work so she could tell him that his beloved baby brother had hung himself.

Doug had lived with us for a while. He was kind, gentle, and funny. He was only 24 when he died.

My uncle was so young—too young—but not as young as some who end their lives. Youth suicide in the U.S. is on the rise, and the numbers—and ages—are staggering.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Pavel Verbovski

Forrest doesn't mind admitting he needed a second chance. The 49-year-old had, at one point, been a member of the Army; he'd been married and had a support network. But he'd also run into a multitude of health and legal problems. He'd been incarcerated. And once he was released, he didn't know where he would go or what he would do. He'd never felt so alone.

But then, some hope. While working with Seattle's VA to obtain a place to live and a job, Forrest heard about Mercy Magnuson Place, a new development from Mercy Housing Northwest that would offer affordable homes to individuals and families who, like Forrest, needed help in the city's grueling rental market.

Forrest remembers not wanting to even go see the building because he didn't want to get his hopes up, but a counselor persuaded him. And when he learned that the development was a repurposed former military barracks — now a historic landmark — he knew he'd feel right at home.

Today, Forrest couldn't be happier. "I've got a 10-foot-high ceiling," he says. "I've got 7-foot windows. I look out onto a garden." His studio apartment, he says, has more space than he knows what to do with. For someone who's spent chunks of his life not having a place to call his own, the three closets that Forrest's apartment boasts are a grand luxury.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
True
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Having a baby is like entering a fight club. The first rule of having a kid is don't talk about having a kid. New moms end up with weird marks on their bodies, but they don't talk about how they got there or why. They just smile as they tell other women motherhood is such a joy.

There are so many other things we don't talk about when it comes to pregnancy. Hearing about the veritable war zone your body turns into is enough to snap anyone out of the highest of baby fevers, which is why so many women probably keep the truth to themselves. But it's important to talk about the changes because it normalizes them. Here are some of the ways your body changes that your health textbook isn't going to cover.

Keep Reading Show less
popular