Get Real: How do I make these erections stop!?!

Heather Corinna

Hopefully what I can do is help you to worry about it less and accept the way your body is right now more.

chris10 asks:

I’m 16, I get erections very easily. When I make out with girls I get them, or if I massage private areas not meaning her vagina. I notice when we’re done that I have ejaculated. I don’t even feel this happen. I don’t feel super excited it just happens! I try to think about different things but it doesn’t work! I hope you can help, thanks.

Heather Corinna replies:

I probably can’t help you keep erections or ejaculation from happening when you don’t want them to, since that’s just something largely, and often entirely, outside someone’s control. Hopefully what I can do is help you to worry about it less and accept the way your body is right now more.

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We hear from a lot of guys upset or freaked out about this. I certainly understand why and how it can be really upsetting. It’s a big deal to have your body announce to someone else that you’re physically stimulated or turned on, especially if happens at times where you’re not ready to share that with someone else, don’t want to share that information or feel physically or emotionally unsafe being exposed in that way. Some people can be total jerks about unexpected or inopportune erections. While that’s really a problem based in their own immaturity and insensitivity, not a problem of your body, knowing that often only helps so much if and when you and your penis are the butt of anyone’s jokes or their own discomfort with bodily functions. It’s even more rough for your body to react in such a way that announces a sexual interest to others you might not actually be feeling or wanting.

There are some built-in inequities many of us have to deal with when it comes to our bodies. Just like it’s an inequity for only people with a uterus to be the ones who can get pregnant or have periods, or only breastfeeding mothers who have to deal with breasts leaking in public, it’s also an inequity for people with penises to have to deal with what you are. Sure, it’s less of a big deal than having the ability to become pregnant when you don’t want to, but it’s still a big deal.

Both of these things really are typical, though, however unfair they can feel. What’s going on with your body that makes these things happen? Well, when you are turned on — even only a little — this is a typical way the body you’re in responds. During puberty, erection does tend to happen a lot, and ejaculation tends to happen easily and often quickly with little warning. Your brain and body can be very easily stimulated by sights, sounds, smells, being touched, the idea of being touched, or touching someone or something else. Sometimes those things are sexual, sometimes they’re sensual, and sometimes they either are or don’t seem like either (for instance, erections and/or ejaculation during sleep can happen just because of sheets brushing against your penis or other parts of the body).

It can often take very little sensory stimulation of any kind, or very little sexual thought, for the pistons in your brain and the nerves in your pelvis to fire and send signals that move blood to your genitals. That blood then moves into two bodies of tissue that run the length of the penis, the corpus cavernosum and the corpus spongiosum, causing an erection. Why does this happen more often to younger men? Younger men get a lot of what’s called “reflex erections,” meaning you might not be feeling sexual, or having sexual thoughts, but your body reacts to any given kind of stimulation as if you are or were, stimulation that can be as common as your jeans putting pressure on your penis, or a full bladder stimulating the nerves inside your pelvis. Those kinds of things send nerve signals that create an erection as a reflexive response. In Sexual Health for Men, Richard F. Spark calls reflex erections are “the genital equivalent of a knee jerk,” that reflex our legs have when a general physical taps our knee with that little rubber hammer.

Your testosterone levels before puberty are very low. When you enter puberty, they start surging, and usually before the time you’re twenty, they’ll get as high as they ever get (and stay that way for around 20 years before your levels of testosterone start to gradually decline). That has an awful lot to do with the awful lot of erections you’re getting as well as with ejaculating. And a lot of the time, you probably are having sexual thoughts, feelings and desires. The times this happens when you’re making out with girls, no matter where you’re touching them, is likely about sexual thoughts and feelings. If you didn’t have any of those, you probably wouldn’t want to make out with them at all, after all. Additionally, sometimes our bodies respond sexually when we’re almost the opposite of sexually aroused: when we’re feeling fearful or nervous, including feeling nervous about what our bodies might do in front of someone else that we feel is embarrassing.

With the ejaculation, your body just doesn’t have a lot of control right now over that, either. Sometimes that will happen without orgasm, sometimes right after or with one. Like erection, ejaculation is mostly about responses and signals from your brain and central nervous system. You can ejaculate without experiencing orgasm. For people with a penis, often ejaculation happens right after or with orgasm, but it can sometimes happen without it, too, especially when you’re young. You may well also be experiencing orgasms sometimes with this, just not orgasms that feel like much. For people of all genders, orgasm doesn’t always feel the same way, and if we reach orgasm really fast, especially if we haven’t been aroused for very long or had a lot of whole-body stimulation — or are totally distracted by something else, like what we’re doing to someone else or when we’re feeling a lot of anxiety — they can sometimes feel so weak or mild when they happen we may not know or care they happened at all.

As you get older, while erection can still happen on the fly, it’s much more likely to happen mostly when you’re sexually aroused and engaged, whereas now, while you’re describing times they happen when you probably are sexually aroused, they might also happen while you’re doing algebra homework. As you get older, how quickly and easily you ejaculate will also probably happen less often, less quickly, and be a bit more under your control if and when you want it to be.

What’s going on with your body really is okay, even if it doesn’t feel okay. It isn’t something you can often control, it is a signal that everything is working as it should downstairs, and it isn’t something you are doing to someone else. When you have these physical responses, it’s not like you’re pushing anyone you’re with into a sexual situation or activity, or having them engage in something they don’t want to be engaged in. Your body is just having its own responses, just like the body of anyone else you’re with may be having their own physical responses. So long as your pants are on, and/or your penis or ejaculate isn’t in direct contact with them, you’re not putting them at any risks of infections or pregnancy, either. So long as you’re not insisting anyone else do anything with or to your penis they don’t want to be doing, you’re all good on that score.

It might help to know that the girls you’re making out with may also be getting erections. You just won’t tend to be able to see them the way yours are visible unless you were looking at their genitals when they were naked, or feeling their genitals with a bare hand. The anatomy and physiology of the internal and external clitoris is a whole lot like the penis. These, too, fill with blood when someone feels sexually excited — sometimes even only a little — and also become erect. But because the external portions are much smaller than most penises, and the internal portion is inside the body, it’s nothing anyone can see easily or when someone is dressed. Vulvas and vaginas also usually self-lubricate (get wet) when a person is sexually excited, but again, that often isn’t something you can see. And no, it’s really not fair that one kind of body makes obvious announcements to others it’s owner may not want to be making while another can keep those same responses almost, if not entirely, secret unless that person wants someone else to know. On the other hand, it also can make it harder for girls or their sexual partners to know when they’re really sexually aroused and when they’re not, so it has its downsides.

If and when you are getting an erection or ejaculating around or near a girl you’re with, and wither she or you feel uncomfortable with that, you can talk it out. You can fill her in, in a very relaxed way, about how this is something penises do, often outside the control of the person whose body they’re part of, especially when you’re young. While other guys might know that, a lot of girls won’t, just like there’s probably a lot you don’t know or aren’t expecting with girl-bodies.

You might do explain it like this: “Just so you know, if I get hard while we’re doing this stuff, it’s something outside my control. It also happens sometimes that I wind up ejaculating when I don’t want to. I feel kind of uncomfortable about both of those things right now, but it’s just the deal with most guys my age. If and when either of those things happen, know it’s nothing I’m doing on purpose, and it doesn’t mean I want or need anything from you, or that you should feel like you need to do anything about that. If you’re not comfortable being close if my body is acting that way, just let me know, and we can just hang out and talk instead, no big deal. I just ask you try and be sensitive to the fact that I feel as awkward with it as you might, and understand that if I want to move away from making out quickly because of what my body is doing, it’s probably not about my not liking you or you having done anything wrong.”

Obviously, you’ll want to take what I’ve suggested and put it in your own words so you don’t sound like some kind of infomercial, but you get the gist.

Filling others in on the reality of bodies is a cool thing to do, both for you and for them. No one should have to feel like they have to hide things their body does outside their control and again, it’s not like erection or ejaculation in your pants hurts anyone or poses any kind of risk to anyone else. Like I said, the people you’re with may be having their own body responses, even if you aren’t seeing them, so that can also help them feel more comfortable with their own bodies, and have a good idea that you’ll be cool about this stuff with them, too.

If you don’t feel able to talk about it, another option is taking a break and stepping away for a bit when you feel an erection coming on so it can just go down, as it usually will fairly quickly. You get to do that, and it’s okay: everyone always gets to step away from making out or any kind of sex or intimacy for any reason, at any time. How candid you are about why you’re stepping away is going to be up to you, and will obviously probably depend on how comfortable you feel with the other person.

I think the best thing to do is to make sure that when you’re getting any kind of physical with someone else, it’s someone you feel pretty comfortable having these responses with/around. If it feels really scary to you, or seriously freaks you out (or you think it’ll freak them out) to potentially have this happen with someone, you might want to rethink making out with that person. For sure, making out and having genital sex are different things, but when we’re any kind of sexual with someone else, which includes making out, our bodies may have sexual responses. No matter how old we are or where we’re at in our sexual development, we’re usually not going to feel comfortable having all kinds of, or certain, sexual responses with just anyone.

That same advice goes for whoever you’re with. It’s not like making that call is or should be all on you, because there’s more than one of you involved, and it’s up to each of you to make these choices. It’s also up to them to decide if they are okay with being physical with someone else, including what their bodies and the other persons body may do in response.

It may happen — or may have happened already — that when either of these things occurs with a girl you’re with, she may have a sort of “Hey, WHOAH! What’s THAT?” reaction. Hopefully, if and when she does, it was a kind one, but it’s pretty normal for people to be surprised by what goes on with other people’s bodies when it’s something they’re not expecting or didn’t know would happen. You might have — or may have already had — the same kind of reaction the first time a girl gets her period while you’re with her, or the first time someone has an orgasm around you, especially if it happens at a time you weren’t expecting it. That’s okay: we all get to be surprised and feel surprised. So many people don’t know that sexual responses can and do happen not just during things like intercourse or oral sex, but even when two people are just hugging or kissing. But it can be easy to interpret surprise as disgust or rejection, even when it’s not, so if and when someone has a reaction, don’t assume it’s necessarily bad. They just may be surprised and need to know what’s going on, then a few minutes to conceptualize everything. If they react really badly, figure that’s just not someone ready to be close to other folks, don’t repeat time with them, and try to remind yourself that people being big stupid about bodies is about their lack of information, maturity or readiness (or all three), not about your body.

I don’t feel like anyone should have to try to psych themselves out of sexual responses when they are doing sexual things. If we’re making out with someone, we should be able to enjoy that and think about it all we want, not feel like we have to try and force ourselves to think about something else to change our sexual feelings. If it’s not okay for us to be in situations where our bodies do what they do outside our control, then rather than our bodies reactions not being okay, it seems to me something must be not-okay about the situation in which they’re happening. Again, we won’t tend to be comfortable being intimate with just anyone, or in every situation, so be sure you’re only choosing to be with people intimately, where stuff like this can happen, that you feel pretty comfortable with and that seem to have the maturity to be doing whatever both of you are, including the ways your bodies might react to those things. Trust your instincts.

I figured you might want to hear from a guy on this as well, so I asked my friend Justin, a sex educator in the UK about this. He’s got some sage words and a few practical suggestions if you do want to try to make this happen less:

Erections are unreliable creatures. Sometimes you can’t stop getting them when you don’t want them (on the bus, in class) and sometimes they go away when you most want them (when the heat is on when you’re having sex with some for the first time). So try not to worry too much about it. You’re a teenage guy, it’s normal.

It happens with older guys too. Apparently Jim Morrison used to have to strap his down on stage and Elvis got so turned on in his 1968 comeback special that he came in his leather jumpsuit (sadly he only had one of these and one of his assistants had to clean it every day).

If you really want to try and chill this out, it may help to wear more than one pair of underwear or more snug fitting pants can help to restrain your penis. Some guys tell me hey wear two pairs of trousers. Maybe try wearing jeans, if you’re not already, as they are a bit more rigid.

You might also want to consider wanking more in your down time. Masturbation is not at all harmful and you can do it as much as you like, so long as you don’t get sore, or hurt your wrist (tip: change hands). This might help you to release some sexual energy so you’re less likely to get a hard-on when you don’t want to. Perhaps Elvis should have wanked more….?

I’m going to leave you with a few links to look over to give you some extra info about your body, other people’s bodies, how sexual response works, and a piece that can help you learn how to communicate things like this with someone else. Hang in there: this, too, shall pass. In twenty or thirty years, you may even be one of those guys who complains that it did.

Culture & Conversation Politics

Latino Votes Count or ‘Why Would They Be Trying to Suppress Them?’: Dolores Huerta on What’s at Stake in 2016

Ally Boguhn

“We know that we’ve had this problem that Latinos sometimes don’t vote—they feel intimidated, they feel like maybe their vote doesn’t matter,” Huerta told Rewire. Huerta encouraged people to consider both what is at stake and why their vote might be suppressed in the first place.

Republican nominee Donald Trump launched his campaign for president in June 2015 with a speech notoriously claiming Mexican immigrants to the United States “are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.”

Since then, both Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party at large have continued to rely upon anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric to drum up support. Take for example, this year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio—whose department came under fire earlier this year for racially profiling Latinos—was invited to take the stage to push Trump’s proposed 2,000-mile border wall. Arpaio told the Arizona Republic that Trump’s campaign had worked with the sheriff to finalize his speech.

This June, just a day shy of the anniversary of Trump’s entrance into the presidential race, People for the American Way and CASA in Action hosted an event highlighting what they deemed to be the presumptive Republican nominee’s “Year of Hate.”

Among the advocates speaking at the event was legendary civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside César Chávez in the farm workers’ movement. Speaking by phone the next day with Rewire, Huerta—who has endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—detailed the importance of Latinos getting involved in the 2016 election, and what she sees as being at stake for the community.

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The Trump campaign is “promoting a culture of violence,” Huerta told Rewire, adding that it “is not just limited to the rallies,” which have sometimes ended in violent incidents, “but when he is attacking Mexicans, and gays, and women, and making fun of disabled people.”

Huerta didn’t just see this kind of rhetoric as harmful to Latinos. When asked about its effect on the country at large, she suggested it affected not only those who already held racist beliefs, but also people living in the communities of color those people may then target. “For those people who are already racist, it sort of reinforces their racism,” she said. “I think people have their own frustrations in their lives and they take it out on immigrants, they take it out on women. And I think that it really endangers so many people of color.”

The inflammatory rhetoric toward people of color by presidential candidates has led to “an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom,” according to an April report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The organization’s analysis of the impact of the 2016 presidential election on classrooms across the country found “an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.” Though the SPLC did not name Trump in its questions, its survey of about 2,000 K-12 educators elicited up more than 1,000 comments about the Republican nominee, compared to less than 200 comments mentioning other presidential candidates still in the race at that time.

But the 2016 election presents an opportunity for those affected by that violent rhetoric to make their voices heard, said Huerta. “The Latino vote is going to be the decisive vote in terms of who is going to be elected the president of the United States,” she continued, later noting that “we’ve actually seen a resurgence right now of Latinos registering to vote and Latinos becoming citizens.”

However, a desire to vote may not always be enough. Latinos, along with other marginalized groups, face many barriers when it comes to voting due to the onslaught of voter restrictions pushed by conservative lawmakers across the country—a problem only exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling gutting portions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) meant to safeguard against voter suppression efforts. The 2016 election season will be the first presidential election without those protections.

As many as 875,000 eligible Latino voters could face difficulty voting thanks to new restrictions—such as voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, and shortened early voting periods—put into place since the 2012 elections, a May analysis from the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials found.

When it comes to restrictions like this, Huerta “absolutely” saw how they could create barriers for those hoping to cast their ballot this year. “They’ve made all of these restrictions that keep especially the Latino population from voting. So it’s very scary,” said Huerta, pointing to laws in states like Texas, which previously had one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. (The state has since agreed to weaken its law following a judge’s order).

“We know that we’ve had this problem that Latinos sometimes don’t vote—they feel intimidated, they feel like maybe their vote doesn’t matter,” Huerta went on.

Huerta encouraged people to consider both what is at stake and why their voting rights might be targeted in the first place. “What we have to think about is, if they’re doing so much to suppress the vote of the Latino and the African-American community, that means that that vote really counts. It really matters or else why would they be trying to suppress them?”

Appealing to those voters means tapping into the issues Latinos care about. “I think the issues [Latinos care about] are very, very clear,” said Huerta when asked how a presidential candidate could best appeal to the demographic. “I mean, immigration of course is one of the issues that we have, but then education is another one, and health care.”

A February survey conducted jointly by the Washington Post and Univision found that the top five issues Latino voters cared about in the 2016 election cycle were jobs and the economy (33 percent), immigration (17 percent), education (16 percent), health care (11 percent), and terrorism (9 percent).

Another election-year issue that could affect voters is the nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Huerta added. She pointed out the effect justices have on our society by using the now-decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case as an example. “You know, again, when we think of the presidents, and we think of the Supreme Court and we know that [was] one of the issues that [was] pending in the Supreme Court … whether what they did in Texas … was constitutional or not with all of the restrictions they put on the health clinics,” she said.

Latinas disproportionately face large barriers to reproductive health care. According to Planned Parenthood, they “experience higher rates of reproductive cancers, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections than most other groups of people.” Those barriers are only exacerbated by laws like Texas’ HB 2, as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explained in its amicus brief in the Whole Woman’s Health case prior to the decision: “Texas Latinas already face significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges in accessing health services.”

“H.B. 2’s impact is acute because of the day-to-day struggles many Latinas encounter when seeking to exercise their reproductive rights,” wrote the organization in its brief. “In Texas, there is a dire shortage of healthcare facilities and providers in predominantly Latino communities. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the country, and Texas Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be uninsured …. Additionally, the lack of public and private transportation creates a major barrier to accessing health services, especially in rural areas.”

As Rewire’s Tina Vasquez has reported, for undocumented women, the struggle to access care can be even greater.

Given the threats cases like Whole Woman’s Health have posed to reproductive rights, Huerta noted that “Trump’s constant attacks and misogynist statements” should be taken with caution. Trump has repeatedly vowed to appoint anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court if elected.

“The things he says without even thinking about it … it shows what a dangerous individual he can be when it comes to women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights,” said Huerta.

Though the race for the White House was a top concern of Huerta’s, she concluded by noting that it is hardly the only election that matters this year. “I think the other thing is we have to really talk about is, the presidency is really important, but so is the Senate and the Congress,” said Huerta.

“We’ve got to make sure we get good people elected at every level, starting at school board level, city council, supervisors, commissioners, etc. state legislatures …. We’ve got to make sure reasonable people will be elected, and reasonable people are voted into office.”

News Human Rights

Mothers in Family Detention Launch Hunger Strike: ‘We Will Get Out Alive or Dead’

Tina Vasquez

The hunger strikers at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania are responding to recent comments made by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in which he said the average length of stay in family detention is 20 days. The women say they've been in detention with their children between 270 and 365 days.

On Monday, 22 mothers detained inside Pennsylvania’s Berks County Residential Center, one of the two remaining family detention centers in the country, launched a hunger strike in response to recent comments made by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Jeh Johnson in which he said the average length of stay in family detention is 20 days.

The average length of stay for the 22 hunger strikers has been between 270 and 365 days, they say.

Erika Almiron, director of the immigrant rights organization Juntos and a core member of the Shut Down Berks Coalition, informed the women detained inside Berks of Johnson’s recent comment via email, hoping they would want to release a statement that her organization could help amplify. Instead, the women decided to launch a hunger strike, with recent reports indicating the number of participants has risen to 26.

“When Johnson said [ICE] only detain[s] people for 20 days, he said that thinking that no one would care,” Almiron told Rewire. “Our goal has always been to make people aware of the inhumane nature of detention in general, but also that children are being locked up and moms are being held indefinitely.”

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By definition, “family detention” means the women in Berks are detained alongside their children, who range in age from 2 to 16 years old. In an open letter addressed to Johnson, the women share that their children have routinely expressed suicidal thoughts as a direct result of being imprisoned. The women allege that they are being threatened by psychologists and doctors in the detention center for making this information public, but are choosing to move forward with the hunger strike.

In part, the letter reads:

The teenagers say being here, life makes no sense, that they would like to break the window to jump out and end this nightmare, and on many occasions they ask us if we have the courage to escape. Other kids grab their IDs and tighten them around their necks and say that they are going to kill themselves if they don’t get out of here. The youngest kids (2 years old) cry at night for not being able to express what they feel … We are desperate and we have decided that: we will get out alive or dead. If it is necessary to sacrifice our lives so that our children can have freedom: We will do it!

An August 2015 report about the Berks center by Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy organization, seemed to confirm what women and children detained inside of the facility have been saying since the detention center’s inception in 2001: Detention is no place for families and being imprisoned is detrimental to the health and well-being of children.

According to the Human Rights First report, detained parents in Berks experience depression, which only exacerbates the trauma they experienced in their countries of origin, and their children exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and increased aggression. Frequent room checks that take place at 15-minute intervals each night also result in children experiencing insomnia, fear, and anxiety, the report says.

Families detained inside of Berks have no real means to alleviate these symptoms because the facility does not provide adequate mental health care, according to the report. Human Rights First notes that Berks does not have Spanish-speaking mental health providers, “though the majority of families sent to family detention in the United States are Spanish-speaking and many have suffered high rates of trauma, physical and sexual violence, and exploitation.”

The organization also explains that only 23 of the total staff at Berks (or less than 40 percent) reportedly speak some conversational Spanish, “making it difficult for many staff members to effectively communicate with children and their parents.”

Berks has a history of human rights abuses. A 41-year-old former counselor at Berks was recently sentenced to between six and 23 months of jail time for the repeated sexual assault of a 19-year-old asylum-seeking mother. The young woman, along with her 3-year-old son, fled sexual domestic violence in her native Honduras. The assaults on the young mother at the detention center were witnessed by at least one of the children detained with her.

There have also been health-care issues at Berks, including the failure by the detention center to provide adequate services, according to Human Rights First.

The organization was able to collect some of the letters women detained at Berks wrote to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), along with ICE’s response to their concerns. One woman, detained at Berks for four months, told ICE that her 5-year-old daughter had diarrhea for three weeks and that the detention center’s doctor failed to provide her child with any medication or other care. The woman asked for “adequate medication” for her daughter and for the opportunity to have her asylum case handled outside of detention. ICE’s response: “Thank you! You may disolve [sic] your case at any time and return to your country. Please use the medical department [at Berks] in reference to health related issues.”

Using family detention as a way to handle migrants, especially those fleeing violence in Central America, has been called inhumane by many, including activists, advocates, mental health specialists, and religious leaders. But the prolonged detainment of women and children at Berks is in violation of ICE’s own standards.

In June of 2015, Johnson announced a series of reforms, including measures aimed at reducing the length of family detention stays for families who had passed a protection screening. But then earlier this month, Johnson defended family detention, saying, “The department has added flexibility consistent with the terms of the [Flores] settlement agreement in times of influx. And we’ve been, by the standard of 1997, at an influx for some time now. And so what we’ve been doing is ensuring the average length of stay at these facilities is 20 days or less. And we’re meeting that standard.”

But all of the 22 mothers on hunger strike at Berks have been in detention for months, according to the letter they sent Johnson.

There’s also the issue that in July, a federal appeals court ordered DHS to end family detention because it violates Flores v. Johnson, which determined that children arriving to the United States with their mothers should not be held in unlicensed detention centers. Soon after, family detention centers scrambled to get licensed as child-care facilities (a battle they’re losing in Texas), but the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) licensed Berks to operate as a children’s delinquency center. In October 2015, PA DHS decided not to renew the license, which would have expired February 21, 2016, because the facility holds asylum-seeking families as opposed to only children, as the license permitted. Berks appealed the decision to not renew its license, and continues to operate until it receives a ruling on that appeal.

“Our argument from the start has been that we don’t think any of this is legal,” Almiron told Rewire in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “What is happening inside of Berks is illegal. I have no idea how they continue to operate. Right now, Berks does not have a license. It was revoked because the license they did have didn’t fit what they were doing. They also have prolonged detention. Women who are hunger striking have been there 360-something days, but then Jeh Johnson says it’s only 20 days. There is no accountability with DHS or ICE. There are numerous ways [DHS and ICE are] not accountable, but Berks is a prime example. There is no transparency and they can to change the law whenever they like.”

Neither DHS nor Berks responded to requests for comment from Rewire.

Advocates have expressed concerns that the women in Berks will be retaliated against by ICE and detention center employees because of their participation in the hunger strike. As Rewire reported, when women at Texas’ T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former family detention center, launched a hunger strike in November 2015, participants alleged that ICE used solitary confinement and transferred hunger strikers to different facilities, moving them further from their family in the area and their legal counsel. ICE denied a hunger strike was even taking place.

In December 2015, men detained at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, ended a 14-day hunger strike after a local judge authorized officials to force-feed one of the hunger strikers because of his “deteriorating health” due to dehydration. Advocates told Rewire force-feeding was being used as a form of retaliation.

Almiron said the hunger strikers at Berks have already been threatened by guards, who told the women that if they continue to hunger strike and they get too weak, their children will be taken away from them. The organizer said the letter the women wrote to Johnson shows their bravery, and their understanding that they are willing to take whatever risk necessary to help their children.

“Honestly, I think they’ve been retaliated against the moment they came to this country. The fact that they’re in detention is retaliation against their human survival,” Almiron said. “Retaliation happens in detention centers all the time, women are threatened with deportation for asking for medical care for their children. These women are incredibly strong. In my eyes, they’re heroes and they’re committed to this fight to end family detention, and so are we.”

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