What Was Done to Migrant Girls in Custody Is Shameful

In the weeks before the 2018 midterms, the Trump administration’s family separation policy on our southern border spurred outrage all over the country. I remember it well, because even some white evangelical women in Texas responded by supporting Democrat Beto O’Rourke over Republican Ted Cruz, based mainly on their opposition to that policy.

Despite the fact that children continue to be separated from their families, that outrage has died down, even as the government has lost track of thousands who remain in custody.

Representative Lauren Underwood addressed some of the long-term effects of that kind of trauma on children when she questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen. I encourage you to watch these videos because this information is not widely-known outside the circles of those with expertise in childhood trauma.

What I’d like to focus in on is that the young girls in custody were not only subjected to that kind of trauma. We have learned recently that the people who run the facilities where they were housed actually tracked their menstrual cycles. The bigger picture is that this was done in order to identify possible pregnancies and stop them from getting abortions.

This is already a horrific story. But I’d like to backtrack for just a moment. I realize that talking about women’s menstrual cycles is not usually done in “polite company.” But as someone who went through a medical emergency due to excessive bleeding when I was 13 years old, I’ve promised myself that I would do everything I can to break that rule.

What women and girls experience on a monthly basis is simply a normal bodily function, but for some reason (hint: misogyny) it has been shrouded in shame. That’s why we don’t talk about it in polite company. The rule was so overwhelming that when I was 13, I didn’t even talk to my mother about what was happening to me and was only taken to see a doctor when I developed a cough that persisted for weeks. By that time, I had to be hospitalized and receive blood transfusions.

I say all of that because, if you’ve never been a girl who experienced the beginning of your menstrual cycle, you might not know how the combination of shame and fear (yes, bleeding is scary) arrive at the onset of that normal biological function. I can’t even begin to imagine how invasive it would be to add to all of that by having someone who is practically a stranger track your cycles.

The fact that all of this was done to deny these girls access to an abortion if they needed one demonstrates how deeply misogyny is embedded among those who want to prove their so-called “pro-life” bonafides. Having a menstrual cycle should not be shameful. It is the treatment of these girls by our government that is shameful.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.