Immigrant women less likely to report abuse

Many immigrant women do not understand U.S. laws about domestic violence and fear deportation.

Sarah Klaphake

Domestic violence can be tough to discuss for anyone, but it is especially hard for immigrants and international students, said Roberta Gibbons, associate director of the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education.

Because language barriers, misunderstanding of U.S. laws that protect them and fears of deportation keep women from other countries from reporting domestic violence, in January the Aurora Center will increase outreach programs to these women and their families.

Using part of a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Gibbons said, the center will work more closely with immigrants and campus international students – who, she said, are “underserved populations” that face extra barriers to confronting domestic violence.

Many are not familiar with the resources available or with U.S. laws against domestic violence, Gibbons said. She added that many women also feel ashamed reporting domestic violence.

Amy Sanchez, communications director for Casa de Esperanza – a Twin Cities advocacy group for battered Latino women – said all battered women face similar challenges when they want to report abuse, but immigrant women’s circumstances can affect challenges such as isolation and threats.

Sanchez said immigrant women’s abusers often isolate them and keep them from learning English, which removes many options by preventing the women from accessing available resources.

She also said immigrant women’s abusers often threaten to have them deported. Even though they usually do not have that power, Sanchez said, most immigrant women do not know their rights and are confused by U.S. laws.

Gibbons said deportation threats are particularly common in relationships in which only one partner has a student visa.

“It is very common that one spouse’s visa depends on the other spouse’s student visa,” said Doreen Thompson, general manager of the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative, a University student housing complex in St. Paul that houses 464 families – only 19 percent of which are from the United States. The others come from 70 countries.

Houa Vang, a University student involved with the Hmong community in Minneapolis, said Asian women often worry about giving their community a bad reputation.

“(Asian women) don’t want other communities of people to know that they are victims of domestic violence,” Vang said.

The Aurora Center will work with Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative and the International Student and Scholar Services to reach immigrants and international students and their families.

Thompson said they will use the Aurora Center to build relationships between immigrant residents and community resources where they can go for help so women can feel comfortable asking for help.

This is the fourth consecutive year the Aurora Center has received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, but the first time it will use the grant to focus on immigrant and international students and their families.