Domestic violence can be defined as continuous abusive behavior in a relationship that is utilized by one partner to gain and maintain control over the other intimate partner. The abusive behavior can be in the form of a physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, that is causing fear through intimidation of physical harm, economic abuse by maintaining complete control of financial resources thus making one partner entirely dependent on the other, and emotional abuse by undermining one partners sense of self-worth. Domestic violence is a disturbing reality in our societies and it can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, or sexual orientation.
Domestic violence is just as prevalent and serious in the Latino community as it is with the rest of the racial and ethnic groups in the country. Similar to other victims of domestic violence, the Latino community also faces critical external and internal factors that prevent them from leaving an abusive relationship. Some of the barriers include financial dependence on the abuse, fear of bringing shame to the family, a hope that the abuser will change, fear of retaliation, guilt, hopelessness and a lack of supportive relationships (Barcaglioni, 2010). Such barriers prevent them from addressing their abusive relationships by seeking help which leads to a more complex situation.
However, Latinos also face additional barriers that are unique to this group, more so to the Latino immigrants. Latino immigrants that are victims of domestic violence often have to deal with numerous other issues such as adjusting to a new country and culture, health issues, language barrier, homesickness, employment and housing issues, concerns about their children who are also struggling to adjust to their new environment, and legal immigration status (Barcaglioni, 2010). As a result, Latino immigrants may at times be overwhelmed that they find it difficult to seek help in their abusive relationships.
One of the major contributing challenges facing Latino immigrants in abusive relationships to seek help is the language barrier. While it is a common strategy for an abuser to isolate their victims in an abusive relationship, the isolation of Latinos is further intensified by the language barrier. The fact that most immigrants are not proficient in English prevents victims of domestic violence from sufficiently knowing the various resources available to assist them. Additionally, the lack of English proficiency presents a challenge for the victim in understanding what the services entail and how to access such services. The situation is further worsened by the fact that community education and outreach for Spanish speaking domestic violence victims is extremely scarce (Gaytan & Goode). There are very few materials developed specifically or translated into Spanish for the Latino community. Thus, the language barrier becomes more difficult to overcome.
Another common tactic utilized by abusers to gain control and power is the use of intimidation and threats. In the Latino immigrant community, the threat of deportation is an intimidating and powerful scheme of control which is also very difficult to overcome. Such intimidation tactics are effective as Latino immigrants generally lack the knowledge about immigration laws and their rights (Gaytan & Goode). This lack of knowledge leads to great anxiety and worry in domestic violence victims who are often controlled with threats of contacting the immigration services by their abusers. Similarly, various studies have shown that in the majority of Latino domestic violence victims, the fear of deportation is a major barrier for immigrants to seek help in their abusive relationships (Barcaglioni, 2010). As such, through the use of such phrases as the government will take away the children, and you will be deported by abusers, Latino immigrant victims do not seek the necessary help from service agencies.
The Hispanic culture also plays a significant role in the prevalent domestic violence cases in Latino immigrants. The Hispanic community is based on a patriarchal system where actions such as hitting a woman for reasons such as defending the honor of the family are not condemned. The culture of the Latino community regards family and community as central components. As stated by Liliana Espondaburu, A Latinas sense of responsibility, culture, and love for her family ground her. Leaving her family, going to a shelter, and living without this support is overwhelmingly difficult and brings enormous loss (Gaytan & Goode). For this reason, many immigrant Latino victims opt not to leave abusive relationships and seek help as they see it as their responsibility to the children that they should grow up with both parents present. Also, as it is a common conception in the Latino community that a Latino woman who cannot keep her family together is considered a failure, most try to maintain the family despite the fact that they are victims of domestic violence (Barcaglioni, 2010).
On the other hand, Latino immigrants who are victims of domestic violence do not need to suffer in silence. There are numerous help services available and legislation in place that ensure the safety of all victims of domestic violence including victims from the Latino community. For instance, in the united states, victims of domestic violence, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, can seek assistance from non-governmental agencies as well as the government through law enforcement and the courts (Casabianca, 2012). Such agencies can offer Latino domestic violence victims such services as counseling, monetary assistance and emergency housing for the victims who have left their abusive relationships, safety planning, and interpreters that better bridge the language barrier.
Furthermore, such protections as those provided under the violence against women act such as the U visas and the VAWA self-petition can assist Latino domestic violence victims to escape a violent relationship and offer protection for the wellbeing of their children without the fear of deportation or retaliation from the abuser. Through the use of the U visa, Latino victims of domestic violence are able to gain temporary work and legal status to help them work in the united states (Casabianca, 2012). Furthermore, education and outreach programs are making strides in educating immigrants on their rights. It is important for all immigrants, Latinos include, to know that non-governmental organizations that shelter domestic violence victims are explicitly exempt from verifying victims immigration status. As such, these organizations are able to provide protection regardless of ones citizenship and immigration status (Casabianca, 2012).
In conclusion, although domestic violence affects all types of families, Latino immigrants have barriers unique to this community. Thus, to better tackle these barriers, intervention strategies have to be based on their unique needs. For instance, strategies have to consider the strong orientation of the Latino community towards family so as to develop effective and culturally competent domestic violence approaches. Furthermore, Latino immigrant domestic violence survivors should receive information in their local language, or at the very least, have access to skilled interpreters to disseminate such information. Ultimately, domestic violence victims, as well as the society, need to be aware that regardless of immigration and citizenship status, victims are entitled to shelter and other services that will help them to leave an abusive relationship.
Barcaglioni, J. (2010, August 31). Domestic Violence in the Hispanic Community. Retrieved from Safe Harbor: http://safeharborsc.org/domestic-violence-in-the-hispanic-community/
Casabianca, S. (2012, August 15). Domestic Violence Risks Increase for Undocumented Latina Women. Retrieved from HuffPost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/15/domestic-violence-latina-women-undocumented_n_1778731.html
Gaytan, N., & Goode, M. (n.d.). Domestic Violence and Latinas. Retrieved from Mujeres Latinas en Accion: http://www.mujereslatinasenaccion.org/userfiles/images/Documents/Latina%20Portrait-%20Domestic%20Violence%20and%20Latinas.pdf
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