Immigrant survivors of domestic violence face more barriers to escaping their abusers and gaining stability than other culturally specific communities. Strict immigration rhetoric and policies implemented in recent years have increased anti-immigration sentiment throughout the country, which, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, has negatively impacted this population of survivors.
Although many cases go unreported and the numbers are possibly much higher, an estimated one in three Latinas have experienced domestic violence. According to a study conducted by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 26.9% of Hispanic/Latina women will experience domestic or sexual violence at least once in their life.
Impact of COVID-19
The pandemic led to the eviction of thousands of people from their homes, many of them immigrants, due to job loss and inability to pay rent. Immigrants and women were more likely to work in industries hurt by the pandemic, and most lacked access to social safety nets. For example, an undocumented immigrant survivor who has to work “under the table” does not have many employment options available and can’t access many federal relief funds, like unemployment.
The pandemic isolated these survivors who were forced to live with their aggressor during the mandatory quarantines and continue in the relationship to avoid living on the street. Even survivors with immigration status who wanted to escape chose not to report abuse because the systems such as law enforcement and the legal system tend to benefit abusers who are U.S. citizens. When survivors do decide to report, they are often dismissed because they cannot convey the message in their native language, and events get lost in translation.
Barriers to Escaping Abuse
Immigrant survivors experience various barriers beyond language and cultural knowledge. Many are unaware of existing federal and local laws, policies, and rights to protect them, which play a crucial role in seeking help. Many times, survivors tell us that they didn’t even know they had rights. Whether or not they have immigration status, they often feel that current protections would not apply to them. This is not only due to distrust of the immigration system but also their experiences with government in their countries of origin. Oftentimes, survivors felt they could not access government assistance in their home country due to corruption, politics, religion, restrictive stances on human rights, and/or lack of infrastructure and resources to develop domestic violence supportive programs.
For instance, Honduras and Colombia don’t have domestic violence specific supportive agencies. Both Latin American countries have some of the highest femicide rates in the world. In addition to cultural stereotypes regarding gender roles, that may also promote the rhetoric that a female survivor must endure the abuse. But even when they find resources, many immigrant survivors report still feeling trapped because of their abuser’s coercive behavior and the threat of being reported to ICE, being deported, and losing their children
Working with Immigrant Survivors
It is no secret that communities of color in the U.S. lack equal access to the same rights and resources as white communities. When a woman of color decides to speak out, she risks negatively affecting her own community by reporting her partner to the authorities. When it comes to domestic violence, white presenting survivors are most likely to be validated and believed over Black or immigrant survivors of color. The latter being the most affected and marginalized of all.
As a Latina immigrant, I have experienced many of the same barriers that the survivors I serve face. It has given me a closer perspective on the systems we have to navigate and work within. Many of the survivors I work with agree that, most of the time, they didn’t know how to access the help that organizations like LifeWire provide. In my role as a Domestic Violence Advocate, I have worked with many survivors within the Latinx community, my identified community, and I have been able to support many seeking to break the cycle of violence for their family through the navigation of resources.
Though it is not always easy, seeking help is the first step. If you are going through a situation in which you don’t know if there is a way out, or feel lost, contact us. Our team of advocates are here to listen and help you. We will do our best to provide access in your native language.
Sharon Monje, Lead Homelessness Services Advocate