This Toolkit assumes that, as an advocate, you know that changing behavior (including your own efforts to advance your practices) generally requires expanding knowledge and evolving attitudes. To these ends, we will – briefly – examine key advocacy practices, then build on them with information and guidance designed to help enhance your practice.
Intake: Practice Basics
During intake, the most important task as an advocate is active listening. This first conversation with you – intake, screening, assessment, etc. - is often the first time that a survivor can tell their story to someone who will listen without judgment, and who will recognize them as the foremost authority on their experiences, goals, and needs. So although the process of intake can be complex and exacting, remember that the goal is to listen to and genuinely support individual survivors.
Active listening also requires active engagement: ask open-ended questions when possible, invite questions from survivors, and provide needed basic information. Listen purposefully or ask clarifying questions to learn, for example, how a survivor refers to the aggressor and what is the nature of their relationship (partner or spouse, who may be same-sex or transgender, in-law or other family member, civil/common law/religious/arranged marriage, etc.). This will help you engage in more respectful and accurate conversations and advocacy, including as you assess eligibility for immigration relief.
As an advocate, you also know that a trauma-informed approach can help you create opportunities for survivors to explore their individual responses to trauma, and increase your own capacities for nuanced, individualized, and relevant advocacy. For example, it is generally true that as survivors revisit and tell their experiences of trauma, it can be difficult for them to process or absorb new information. It is good practice, therefore, to prioritize only the most important information to share with the immigrant survivor or record for the file, and then follow up as needed.
Intake: Enhance Your Practice
- During this initial conversation, you will be listening to two stories: one is about the abuse, of course, and the other is about the experience of immigration. The two will likely not be told as separate stories. They will be interwoven with each other. Just as you do when listening to survivors’ experiences of abuse, you will listen for cues in survivors’ experiences of immigration to help you know what else to ask and how to affirm their experience. You will also be listening to see how these experiences may be linked, as immigration-specific abuse predicts escalation to sexual and/or physical violence and may be a lethality factor.
- Survivors’ understanding of sexual and domestic violence is likely shaped by dominant responses to it in their country of origin, and aspects of culture related (but not limited) to their class, education, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and age. It is also likely shaped by the aggressor and the survivor’s life in the US.
- Immigrant survivors will generally volunteer more information about their experiences of abuse if they receive culturally-sensitive encouragement and advocacy. Support survivors to tell their story and express their experiences, needs, wants, and concerns from their own cultural perspectives, without limitations. Make sure you do not impose or assume limits on a survivor’s choices, when limits are not there.
- Socially marginalized survivors of all kinds, including immigrant survivors, often fear that service providers who are not of their background will use the survivor’s experience of violence to form or deepen prejudices against their entire cultural group. When we as advocates communicate anything that sounds like a judgment of that broader cultural group, or of men who are (or perceived to be) in that cultural group, we inadvertently push survivors into becoming either our teachers (of their cultural experience or social group) or, worse, becoming the defenders of their people and in many cases, the aggressor. They should be neither. A culturally-informed approach includes reminding survivors that we see violence across all lines of identity, including national origin, language, ethnicity, religion, etc., and that we affirm the strengths and resistance to violence that are present across all of those lines as well.
- Fear of deportation, held by both immigrant survivors with legal permission to live and work in the US and those who are undocumented, is the biggest barrier to immigrant survivors seeking any kind of help after experiencing abuse.,, Aggressors often sow and exploit this fear, using tactics such as telling the survivor that if they end up in court over custody, the survivor will lose the children no matter what, because the judge will order the survivor to be deported. This is not true for a number of reasons (for example, only federal immigration courts decide matters of immigration, not family court judges), but many immigrant survivors (as well as most U.S. citizens) know little to nothing about the interplay of legal systems pertaining to child custody, immigration, and violence. Even if some survivors suspect that the aggressors’ threats are untrue, they may have concerns about eventual reports from family courts or other systems to immigration authorities. Listen for the immigration-specific threats the survivor may have experienced, validate survivors’ concerns, and help identify and evaluate options that will increase safety.
Many survivors may not disclose their immigration status initially because they fear your program is connected to the government (and might report them to immigration enforcement) and/or they are uncertain about how what they disclose may be shared with others. Set a positive and welcoming tone from intake onward in your approach to immigration issues.
- NOTE: Many immigrant communities refer to immigration services and/or law enforcement simply as “immigration.” It is important for advocates to understand the basics of the immigration framework, to help you understand survivors’ experiences to date, their immigration status, and their options.
- When interpreters are involved, plan to spend additional time for intakes (1-3 hours) to ensure survivors can tell their story in the way that feels most natural and comfortable.
This section of the Toolkit provides information, resources, and practice guidance on the following subjects to support your intake conversations with immigrant survivors:
- Information for survivors
- Domestic violence
- Sexual violence
- Workplace violence
- Screening for immigration relief
Tools & Resources
See “Top ten strategies to prepare for the interview” (pages 3-4) and “At the beginning of your interview” (pages 4-5) in Representing survivors of crimes of violence before or after an enforcement action by ASISTA.
The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health offers guidance that, although not immigrant-specific, can help you build your trauma-informed advocacy; and help your program build its capacities to integrate both survivors’ diverse experiences and how advocates are feeling and reacting. See, for example:
Orloff, L. & Garcia, O. (2013). Dynamics of Domestic Violence Experienced by Immigrant Victims. In K. Sullivan & L. Orloff (Eds.) Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.
National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities & National Domestic Violence Hotline (2015). An Addendum to Realidades Latinas: A National Survey on the Impact of Immigration and Language Access on Latina Survivors.
Mindlin, J., Orloff, L., Pochiraju, S., Baran, A. & Echavarria, E. (2013). Dynamics of sexual assault and the implications for immigrant women. In L. Orloff (Ed.), Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault.National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.
 Orloff, L. & Garcia, O. (2013). Dynamics of domestic violence experienced by immigrant victims. In Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants.