Domestic violence: Enhance your practice
As you seek to understand an immigrant survivor’s experience of domestic violence during intake, consider the following:
- Listen carefully for recurring themes, particularly those that have to do with cultural contexts of violence with which you are less familiar. For example, consider survivors who experience the preparation and serving of food to the family as an honor and a duty, and who derive a strong, positive sense of self and validation from the work. Many aggressors who know this will destroy, refuse, or throw food in a survivor’s face as a means of psychological and emotional abuse. Tactics like these destabilize and demean survivors in damaging ways we may overlook if we search only for cues to behaviors like threats, insults, or constant “checking in.”
- Ensure that survivors understand what your program and the law consider domestic violence, so that they can make informed choices. Avoid using terms with specific legal definitions that survivors may not yet be familiar with, such as “assault” and “stalking.” When it is necessary to use these terms, always accompany them with clear definitions.
- Think about how, during the intake, you might communicate how patterns of behavior become abusive and what behavior is illegal. Also, look for ways to welcome the survivor to share the effects of the abuse on their wellbeing, and related needs and concerns.
For example, many immigrant survivors may not identify immigration status-related abuse as abuse. Therefore, it can be useful to ask some specific questions about these forms of abuse (but be sure to remind survivors that they are not required to answer your questions):
- Has your partner ever threatened to make sure you and your children end up in different countries?
- Has your partner ever threatened to tell your parents back home?
- Has your partner ever threatened to have you deported?
- Has your partner ever threatened to not file immigration papers for you, to not follow through on papers already filed, or to take away an immigration visa you already have?
- Has your partner ever threatened to tell Citizenship and Immigration Services that you married them just to get immigration papers? (See “Prepare For Intake” for information on some of the federal agencies that oversee and enforce immigration.)
Remember, as always, to listen for (and explore with the survivor, if helpful) how these kinds of threats become coercion; how coercion may be creating an experience of manipulation, isolation, and fear; and how coercion may limit the survivor’s abilities to access community, English classes, work, and other supports and activities. In the case of immigration-specific threats, advocates should inform survivors that many victims of sexual or domestic violence qualify for some form of immigration relief without having to depend on the aggressor to do so.
Tools & Resources
Tácticas de control: la vision de la mujer is a video with a facilitator’s guide to help group leaders and service providers explore Latinas’ experiences with domestic violence and the impact that culture, society, and community have had in the women’s healing processes. By Casa de Esperanza, Battered Women’s Justice Project, and the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (2011). Available at https://www.casadeesperanza.org/purchaseproducts/