By Angiemil Pérez Peña, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Walking into the local shelter for someone experiencing domestic violence can be hard. Reaching out for help to the local community agency or navigating the local resources can be overwhelming for a local resident, but how much more daunting is it to navigate for an immigrant women? When seeking help for an abusive relationship, many immigrants experience increased difficulties and additional barriers for individuals in this group to exit their abusive relationship.
The existing research tells us that documented immigrants, and even moreso for undocumented immigrants, are much less likely to report domestic violence to the police, compared to their non-immigrant counterparts.(1) Some of the barriers that immigrants experience when they do reach out for help include lack of fluency or speaking the dominant language, immigration status, financial dependency on their partners, lack of knowledge about their legal rights, not desiring to perpetuate negative stereotypes of their culture, and the lack of existing culturally appropriate services. Additionally, abusers may exploit these vulnerabilities to keep the victim in the relationships. When you consider the threats immigrant victims may receive--such as the abuser keeping their legal documents, threatening to call immigration and take away the children, refusing to file immigration papers, and denying access to legal documents, to name a few--you begin to understand the added difficulty for immigrant women leaving domestic violence.
Changing the accessibility of resources for immigrant victims of domestic violence will take the involvement of the entire community. We need to continue to reinforce the idea that domestic violence is a social problem, and we all have to take part of the solution. This includes educating members and leaders of vulnerable communities to think of more social justice solutions.
If you’re in a position to help an immigrant who is experiencing an abusive relationship, consider the following suggestions. First, help the person to consider ways to promote their safety, whether or not they leave the relationship. Second, think of the cultural strengths that individuals belonging to collectivistic culture may have, such as social support and having support family members that could help to protect them from an abuser. Third, educate yourself on specific resources available regarding immigration, protective laws such as VAWA, and additional local community resources. Fourth, make every effort to provide services in the native language or work with interpreters who are trained to understand domestic violence. Lastly, strive toward becoming culturally responsive to the needs of underserved populations.
Working together, we can foster communities that offer support and safety for immigrant survivors of domestic violence.
1: Sokoloff, N. J. (2008). Expanding the intersectional paradigm to better understand domestic violence in immigrant communities. Critical Criminology: The Official Journal of the Asc Division on Critical Criminology and the Acjs Section on Critical Criminology, 16, 4, 229-255.
Angiemil Pérez Peña is a graduate student at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro studying Couple & Family counseling.