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:
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.
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.