Challenges faced by immigrant victims of domestic violence are especially relevant in New York City where 36% of the population is foreign born, and over 120 different languages and dialects are spoken. Immigrant women may be less likely to report abuse than non-immigrant women due to language barriers, cultural differences, and a fear of deportation if they are not legally documented to live in the U.S.
Young, foreign-born women in New York City have been found to be at greater risk of being killed by their partners than any other group of women. Very often, no one knows about the abuse until it is too late. It is the policy of the New York City Police Department not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witness, or others who call or approach the police seeking assistance.
What barriers do immigrant domestic violence victims faces when reporting abuse?
The signs and symptoms of domestic violence for immigrant victims are similar to the signs and symptoms of all domestic violence victims. They may include physical violence, sexual assault, and emotional and/or psychological abuse.
Domestic violence is a complex problem in general, but cultural influences can complicate the problem further and magnify the effects of abuse on women living in diverse communities. Cultural influences can create barriers which prevent immigrant victims of domestic violence from reaching out for help. There are three key barriers:
The victim may:
Not be aware that domestic violence is against the law in the United States.
Believe that religion permits corporeal punishment of wives.
Not realize they have rights in the U.S. or that police and other service agencies will provide help regardless of immigration status.
Not be aware that services are available in their own language or know how to access services.
The victim may:
Believe that preserving the community or family reputation is more important than his/her personal rights.
Believe that police should not be involved in what they consider to be "family matters."
Believe that discussing marital or family problems with others may be tremendously shameful to them.
Believe that there is greater honor in persevering through adversity than in seeking assistance to ensure personal safety.
Fear of Authorities
The victim may:
Fear deportation because spouse threatens to expose status even though, as a domestic violence victim, s/he may be protected from deportation.
Fear police, based upon negative experiences with police in their country of origin.
Fear losing custody of children upon separation from the spouse.
Fear losing support or being outcast from his/her cultural community.
Fear loss of financial stability because spouse controls access to finances.
Note: The Violence Against Women Act allows some battered immigrants to obtain lawful permanent residence without their husband’s cooperation. All domestic violence victims who rely on the abusers for immigration status should consult with an immigration attorney specializing in domestic violence remedies. The 24-hour, all-language, toll-free New York City Domestic Violence Hotline can direct immigrants to immigration specialists. Please call 800-621-HOPE (4673) for more information.
Are there domestic violence service providers in New York City who speak my language and understand my culture?
Yes. There are many domestic violence providers who speak many languages and understand diverse cultural needs. They are available to help victims of abuse escape violent relationships by providing direct service or referrals for counseling, social services, cultural programs, legal services, housing, health, immigration, and interpretation services.
Victims may contact a Domestic Violence Prevention Officer at their local police station, the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673) or any community-based organization to learn about services available in their own language and to learn how to obtain an Order of Protection.
An agency may answer the phone in English, but have language capabilities other than English. If the victim does not speak English, s/he should speak the name of the language s/he speaks in English. This will help the person find an interpreter in the appropriate language.
As an immigrant, can I call the police?
Yes. The police are there to help regardless of immigration status. It is the policy of the New York City Police Department not to inquire about the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, or others who call or approach the police seeking assistance.
Regardless of immigration status, police can help victims of abuse and their children:
Get to a safe place and receive medical care if necessary.
Speak to a Domestic Violence Prevention Officer (DVPO) who can provide further information regarding counseling, legal assistance, and other services.
Help obtain and serve an Order of Protection to keep an abuser away.
What if the police do not speak my language?
If the police do not speak the same language as the victim, they will try to find an interpreter. The police want the victim to speak freely about the incident without being intimidated by the abuser or family members.
Important: If an interpreter is not available, it is not advisable for a police officer to use a family member to translate.
Family and friends of the abuser may not give truthful statements.
Allowing the offender to translate gives him control of the situation.
Many victims will be reluctant to reveal details of the violence if the offender can overhear the statement.
Having a child translate may retraumatize the child.
The victim's and child's safety may be further endangered if the child reports the victim’s statements to the offender.
Victims will be especially hesitant to reveal sexual assault to a police officer through a child translator.
As an immigrant victim of domestic violence, where can I find help in New York City?
In the U.S., it is against the law to intentionally cause physical injury to someone or put someone in fear of physical injury. Victims of domestic violence who are in danger should call 911 or have a friend or neighbor call 911 immediately. Operators have access to the multi-lingual Language Line and can connect callers to someone who speaks their language. Victims may also go to the nearest police station for help.
New York City's 24-hour, toll-free, all-language domestic violence hotline can help immigrant victims of domestic violence find appropriate support services. The domestic violence hotline maintains a comprehensive list of service agencies in New York City to meet the specific needs of all victims. Please call the hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673) for more information.
Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs
U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services: Applying for Immigrant Benefits
Resource List of Public Benefits Available for All Immigrants in New York City
The City of New York Resource Directory of Domestic Violence Services