Immigrant and Refugee Domestic Violence Victims Risk Greater Isolation and Risk of Death

One in four women in the United States experience domestic violence. That’s an immense 25% of women experiencing physical, emotional, financial, and verbal abuse at the hands of their intimate partner.

Intimate partners committed 14% of all homicides in the U.S., killing an estimated 1,640 women last year. While American citizens as well as immigrant and refugee women are represented in these figures, it is important to note that immigrant and refugee women are at a heightened level of lethality based on a variety of factors.

Domestic violence is a pattern of intentional and coercive behavior aimed at gaining power and control over an intimate partner or family member through fear or intimidation.

It can take many forms and look very different from woman to woman. Some women experience an abusers control over the family’s finances, control through isolation, and limiting employment or educational opportunities, while other women experience severe beatings and are made to believe they are worthless and powerless.

Immigrant and refugee women specifically are at a heightened risk of experiencing homicide and face additional barriers to safety including: language, culture, isolation, immigration status, and fear of complex foreign systems and law enforcement.

With a 62% increase in Limited English Proficiency persons in Buffalo from 2000 to 2012, there should be no surprise that language is a huge impediment to this population receiving services. Culture also plays a role in how an immigrant or refugee experiences domestic violence.

Culture is not an indicator that one may be more likely to be a victim of domestic violence, but it does mean that the types of abuse are likely to vary widely. An abusers tactics often shift based on culture.

For example, immigrant and refugee women may experience threats of being excluded from one’s cultural community, threats to move children abroad, and threats to immigration status or deportation to name a few.

In addition, they are often unaware of the systems and resources in place to assist them. They are often manipulated and threatened by abusers that there is no assistance for them, that the police will arrest or deport them and that their children will be taken away. These threats are used as tools to control and manipulate women.

Community perception within Buffalo’s ethnic communities also has an impact on a woman’s decision to seek support and safety through domestic violence services.

Community perception in some ethnic groups suggests that agencies providing assistance to survivors of domestic violence are breaking up family units and encouraging women to leave their partners and husbands. In reality, the only goal of Domestic Violence programs is to keep women and children safe and provide the resources to do so.

Burmese community member, Lun Williams feels that domestic violence services make abusers “more careful” since they are aware that there are resources available to help women. This can make the abuse more hidden, but it also has the ability to positively impact an abusers severity of abuse.

“Domestic Violence programs are good for women, especially since Burmese women in particular are often quiet about abuse since domestic violence services do not exist in Burma.

Women often hide and endure abuse due to fears for their safety and fears that the abuser will be in big trouble if the violence is discovered,” Williams says.

This feeds yet another common misconception regarding women leaving an abusive relationship. Many times it is the abuse that the survivor wants to end, not the relationship.

How can our community work towards eliminating domestic violence? With a two pronged approach of education and resources for survivors of abuse, it is possible to decrease instances and work towards eradicating it all together.

The International Institute of Buffalo provides education and training, as well as services to any foreign born survivor. These services can accommodate non-English speaking folks as well, as they are provided in other languages.

The IIB have specific expertise in working with this population and assisting immigrant women seeking safety and support.They can be reached at (716) 883-1900.  Additional resources are available if you or someone you know may be experiencing domestic violence. The National Domestic Violence hotline can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at: 1-800-799-5233 or locally at (716) 884-6000.

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