Sydney Sines

As we continue to recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to share and explain how being in immigrant in the U.S. often creates more barriers to receiving help when survivors find themselves within abusive relationships. To provide clarity with a shared definition in the interest of this blog, the term “immigrant” will be used as a general term to include both documented and undocumented immigrants as well as refugees and asylum seekers [2]. While although we know the experience of relocation brings many challenges different and unique to each individual personally, for the sake of this blog we will use the general term immigrant to encompass all individuals who live or reside in a country foreign to their country of origin regardless of the method or reason for relocation.

The following information will be specific to individuals who identify with being of Latin American descent that currently reside in the United States. In its most basic definition, Latin American refers to North, South, and Central America where Spanish or Portuguese is spoken. Within Latin American communities specifically, there are often more complex barriers and obstacles that prevent individuals from leaving abusive and unhealthy relationships. Before beginning this blog, we want to again reiterate that we understand the complexity of each immigrant’s personal experience with the process of relocation differs and we simply want the following information to start the conversation around supporting and understanding Latin American immigrant survivors of abusive behavior and relationships.

One reason that often times Latin American immigrants struggle to leave abusive relationships is because of perhaps one of the most powerful tactics of abusive behavior, isolation [1]. Isolation does not only occur through being separated from friends and family in the process of relocation. In fact, there are many ways an individual can become isolated by an abuser, however specific to Latin American immigrants and communities, there is most likely a language barrier usually being that of Spanish to English. This can exist if an individual doesn’t speak the language their abuser or community speaks fluently. The combination of both Isolation as well as the language barrier often prevents survivors from receiving help within their communities. This is largely because survivors often do not have the ability to understand there are resources available nor do they have access to them.

Another very common tactic used in unhealthy and abusive relationships, and more commonly within Latin American communities performed by U.S. citizens specifically, is gaining power and control over another individual by threatening deportation or threatening to take their legal documents [1] . While acknowledged in this blog the term immigrant is referring to both documented and undocumented individuals, this power and control tactic can be used on both groups of individuals. To clarify, even if an immigrant has the proper documentation such as a Visa [2] to be in the U.S., that documentation can be confiscated or ruined by an abuser and used as a way to have control over the victim by using threats to report them to the government. This method of abuse is used by individuals who are considered citizens of the country in which they reside allowing them to use the power of their status as a citizen as a threat.

Isolation, language barriers, and threats of deportation are only some of the power and control and abusive behaviors that can be identified as often specific to immigrant survivors of sexual assault or intimate partner violence.

For many years, the United States has become the home for many immigrants from many different cultures, ethnicities, and geographic locations throughout the world. As a result of the increasing numbers, the development and sustainability of programs designed to assist individuals in the process of acculturation to their new environments has increased. With this, we want immigrants of all backgrounds and cultures to know we are committed to providing support and assistance to those who are survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual assault.

If you or someone you know needs support, please call one of our hotlines and we will be able to provide support for you.

RCC hotline: 330-434-7273 | BWS hotline: 330-374-1111

[1] Hass, Giselle Aguilar, Mary Ann Dutton, and Leslye E. Orloff. “Lifetime prevalence of violence against Latina immigrants: Legal and policy implications.” International Review of Victimology 7.1-3 (2000): 93-113.

[2] Definitions as explained by the Battered Women’s Shelter.
Immigrant: Someone that comes to America with the intent to stay in America.
Refugee: Individual that has a fear of returning to their home country and went through a process with the United Nations to come to American and start their life there.
Asylum/Asylee: An Individual that has a fear of returning to their home country and expressed that fear while in American but did not go through the U.N. process.
Green Card: This is an identification card for immigration purposes that is considered a governmental issued ID and is used to show an individual has lawful status.
Visa: Permission given by a country to enter or stay in that country.