Monday, September 28, 2009

Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence

Challenges faced by immigrant victims of domestic violence are especially relevant in New York City where 36% of the population is foreign born, and over 120 different languages and dialects are spoken. Immigrant women may be less likely to report abuse than non-immigrant women due to language barriers, cultural differences, and a fear of deportation if they are not legally documented to live in the U.S.Young, foreign-born women in New York City have been found to be at greater risk of being killed by their partners than any other group of women. Very often, no one knows about the abuse until it is too late. It is the policy of the New York City Police Department not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witness, or others who call or approach the police seeking assistance.

What barriers do immigrant domestic violence victims faces when reporting abuse?The signs and symptoms of domestic violence for immigrant victims are similar to the signs and symptoms of all domestic violence victims. They may include physical violence, sexual assault, and emotional and/or psychological abuse.

Domestic violence is a complex problem in general, but cultural influences can complicate the problem further and magnify the effects of abuse on women living in diverse communities. Cultural influences can create barriers which prevent immigrant victims of domestic violence from reaching out for help.

There are three key barriers:

Limited Information
The victim may:

Not be aware that domestic violence is against the law in the United States.
Believe that religion permits corporeal punishment of wives.
Not realize they have rights in the U.S. or that police and other service agencies will provide help regardless of immigration status.
Not be aware that services are available in their own language or know how to access services.

Social Pressure
The victim may:

Believe that preserving the community or family reputation is more important than his/her personal rights.
Believe that police should not be involved in what they consider to be "family matters."
Believe that discussing marital or family problems with others may be tremendously shameful to them.
Believe that there is greater honor in persevering through adversity than in seeking assistance to ensure personal safety.

Fear of Authorities
The victim may:

Fear deportation because spouse threatens to expose status even though, as a domestic violence victim, s/he may be protected from deportation.
Fear police, based upon negative experiences with police in their country of origin.
Fear losing custody of children upon separation from the spouse.
Fear losing support or being outcast from his/her cultural community.
Fear loss of financial stability because spouse controls access to finances.

Note: The Violence Against Women Act allows some battered immigrants to obtain lawful permanent residence without their husband’s cooperation. All domestic violence victims who rely on the abusers for immigration status should consult with an immigration attorney specializing in domestic violence remedies.

The 24-hour, all-language, toll-free New York City Domestic Violence Hotline can direct immigrants to immigration specialists. Please call 800-621-HOPE (4673) for more information.

What is Domestic Violence?


Domestic violence is a pattern of violent and coercive behavior used by one partner in a relationship to control another; it affects all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or religion. Domestic violence takes multiple forms, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, financial control and social isolation. It is a problem that impacts the safety and well-being of individuals, families, and communities throughout Southern Nevada.

• The vast majority of domestic violence victims are women. According to the most recent statistics from U.S. Department of Justice, women make up 85 percent of domestic violence victims.

• Nearly one-third of American women, or 31 percent, report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.

• Pregnant and recently pregnant women are at high risk for domestic violence, each year, about 324,000 pregnant women in the U.S. are battered by the men in their lives.

• Women age 16 to 24 experience the highest rates of domestic violence.

• Studies suggest that between 3.3 and 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.

• Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.

Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Why doesn't she just leave? Friends, loved ones, strangers, all jump on to this question as soon as they hear of a woman being victimized by an intimate partner. It sounds so logical and so simple. If you are being hurt, walk away.

The simple question, however, glosses over some very complicated dynamics. The professional who works with those dealing with domestic violence (DV) cringes whenever the question comes up. The victim hears accusation and blame in the question; indeed she has probably asked herself the same thing.

So why doesn't she leave? Asking the question belies any understanding of the insidious nature of intimate partner violence. Just as we have learned that rape is about violence and not sex, we have come to understand that domestic violence is about control. It is that very control and nature the nature of the one who wields it, that grooms, charms and creates a world that is so unbalanced, off kilter and dangerous, it often makes it more threatening, indeed, often times lethal, for her to leave. Like an animal caught on shifting ice, she has to try to navigate her unsteady world, trying to determine whether she can really run, hobbled, across the slippery surface and actually jump the chasm onto solid ground.

Asking the simple question discounts what has happened to her so far in the relationship. It dismisses considerations of what kind of social support she may have. It fails to factor in what kind of abuser he is and instead reinforces self-blame. It disregards the very real concern of whether it is more dangerous to stay or leave. It dismisses most victims' extraordinary concerns about what is best for the children. The question reflects stereotypes of domestic violence and its victims.

Most importantly, however, the question makes domestic violence her problem, not the abuser's. Responsibility for the abuse should rest on his actions, not on her response to it.
Why doesn't she just leave? Why does he abuse? Simple questions, but the answers are complex and varied.

This compilation of women's stories addresses the question. Although there are as many stories as there are cases of domestic violence, we have categorized them into sections that reflect some of the more common reasons women are trapped in abusive relationships. If she leaves, will there be a relative or friend or safe shelter she can run to? Can she take her children with her? Will her faith community support her or will they pressure her to return?
Economic reasons loom very large for a woman who has been through trauma. She may have lost her job or been pressured to quit by her abuser. Does she have any money to keep her family going if she leaves? Where will she live? How will she get the children to school? How will she get or keep a job that pays enough to live? If she leaves, how will she afford a divorce or seek protection? What about lawyers and counselors, health insurance? Will she be uprooting her children and losing her home?

Legal reasons can be huge impediments for women who try to leave. When an abuser tell her she will not get custody of her children, she has every reason to believe her abuser will do whatever it take to wrest control back from her, the woman who tries to get a divorce or custody. Abusers often use the courts to harass and revictimize. Judges, guardians ad litem, defense attorneys and even divorce attorneys often have little of no education about domestic violence and can blame the victim for her own abuse or pressure her to give in to the abuser's demands, rather than continue to fight a difficult man.

Finally, yet paradoxically, safety concerns may keep the woman from leaving. The abuse she lives with may be daunting, but she may make the decision that is better to keep living with it than to risk the very real possibility that it will be even worse if she tries to leave. Many victims are kept in place by significant threats that they will never see their children again if they leave, or that if the abuser cannot have them, no one will. In reality, leaving can be the most dangerous time an abused woman faces, and many women do not get out alive. Three-fourths of homicide victims in one study were women who had left or tried to leave abusive partners in the last year.

The complexity of the issue is staggering. Answering the simple question, "why doesn't she just leave?" is equally complicated.