By Ewon Adenomon
Domestic violence affects people of every race, culture, religion and gender. But people with a certain gender specifically women and women who have migrated may have greater challenges. Immigrants especially undocumented immigrants face greater risk based on their immigration status. Those who work with women immigrants who are abused by their partners say those women face additional challenges like deportation as well as abuse.
Jennifer Yerdon, an advocate with Dove Inc., explains that a major challenge faced by a domestic abuse survivor is the fear of leaving their loved ones. “A lot of time people are committed to these relationships and really want to exhaust all the options before leaving this person,” Yerdon said.
“The biggest problem for survivors is coming to the conclusion that this person that they care about is not going to change,” she said.
Most survivors think they can change an abuser, but Yerdon said that is not the case. “We are also trying to push the point that no matter what you do you can’t change this other person they need to want to change for themselves and I think a lot of people get caught up in that,” she said. “The truth is if someone doesn’t want to learn be a healthy partner, no matter what you do they are not going to change,” said Yerdon.
Gladys Ortiz another advocate for women who deal with domestic violence at REACH. REACH is a non-profit organization that provides safety and support to survivors of domestic abuse. She is also a program coordinator for Latinas Know Your Rights Program, a legal advocacy-training program. Ortiz shares some of the challenges that immigrant women face.
Cultural barrier: As an advocate if you know a little bit about the cultural background of the survivor, you already know a lot about the victim. So for instance if you work with someone from China and someone from Guatemala we know that there is a big difference in the cultural aspect. You can start to gain trust with the victim.
Legal system: I need to translate the language and sometimes we use words that are different in every culture. People are petrified of the legal system. It is important to educate them and let them know that the police is not going to call immigration.
Immigration status: That is a humongous part, because people are afraid to talk about it. Instead of having solutions to their problem you are going to bring more problems to your home, that’s how they feel, and that’s how the new policies and bills have made the victims feel… Can you imagine someone that has no document having to step into a court or having to talk to a police officer?
Language barriers: Sometimes they don’t even know how to write or read. Contrary to the popular opinion, advocates only provide guidance for victims “I cannot tell the victim what to do and what to say, what I can do is let her know her options and what is it that she can do, and she needs to make her own decisions,” Ortiz said. ” Some people think that we tell the victims what to do and no we never tell the victim what to do, every option has consequences…If the victim depends on the abuser for food, transportation, translation they need to really think what they are going to do,” she said.
“One of the policy or bill that makes both victims and advocates of domestic violence feel uncomfortable is called the secure communities. When secure communities was implemented in Massachusetts that was a shocking experience for me because I feel powerless as an advocate I feel like the legal system was taping my mouth… and I wasn’t able to help the victims in the way that I used to,” said Ortiz.
The reason Ortiz feels uncomfortable is “because I used to tell the victims that it is okay to call the police but with the secure communities the police gain some power over the federal system.” Ortiz points out that the power acquired by the police gives them the ability to ask victims for their documents and this made undocumented immigrant victims afraid to move around.