Sexual Assault of Migrants in Panama Rises to Level Rarely Seen Outside War

The girl, 8, from Venezuela, had slept fitfully the night before, wailing in her dreams, her mother said, about the men trying to kill her.

Days earlier, the family had entered the Darién Gap, the jungle straddling Colombia and Panama that in the last three years has become one of the world’s busiest migrant highways. After climbing mountains and crisscrossing rivers in their quest to reach the United States, their group was accosted by a half-dozen men in ski masks, holding long guns and issuing threats.

“Women, take off your clothes!” the assailants shouted, the mother recounted, before they probed each woman’s intimate parts looking for cash.

Sons, brothers and husbands were forced to watch. Then the men turned to the girl, her mother said, ordering her to undress for a search, too.

Assault, robbery and rape have long been a grim risk of migrant journeys around the globe. But aid groups working in the Darién Gap say that in the past six months they have documented an extraordinary spike in attacks, with patterns and frequencies rarely seen outside of war zones.

People from Venezuela, Ecuador, Haiti, Colombia and other nations line up outside an Indigenous community at the end of the jungle, headed to the United States.

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