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Violence Against Immigrant Women and Systemic Responses: An Exploratory Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2003
277 pages
This study examined the characteristics of and issues related to immigrant women's experiences of intimate and family violence in the United States, as well as the justice system's and social service providers' responses to the plight of these women.
Based on the perspectives of the victims/survivors and the professionals who assist them or advocate on their behalf, this study addressed the following questions: Why are these women battered? Why don't they leave the abuser or the United States? Why don't they report the violence to the police? Why don't they access social services offered in the new country? Why don't they seek help from their own people? And, what happens when they contact officials, report their abuse, or seek social services? In order to find answers to these questions, the study focused on States with large numbers of recent immigrants and with diverse immigrant communities residing in urban and rural areas. The States selected were California, New York, Florida, Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The various social service agencies that provide services to immigrants in these States were identified, and the directors of the agencies were contacted. Those who agreed to participate in the study were given sets of questionnaires and instructions concerning the interviews. In addition, social service providers from other parts of the country who attended the 2000 Annual Meeting of the National Network on Behalf of Battered Immigrant Women were asked to participate. The providers' relationship with the immigrant clients was an important consideration in the data collection phase of the study. The interviewees (n=137) were immigrant women who sought help related to their immigration or domestic violence problems. This constituted a convenience sample of battered immigrant women who sought help; therefore, the sample does not necessarily represent the universe of battered immigrant women. The value of the findings is in providing informed descriptive accounts of the kinds of problems experienced by immigrant women in their appeal for justice rather than in any enumeration of the results. The women in the sample came from 35 countries in various parts of the world. Most of the women (86 percent) had children. The study found that despite their diversity, immigrant communities have one thing in common with each other and with the American society to which they immigrated, i.e., a patriarchal social order that does not hold abusers accountable and that supports violence against women. This cultural bias against the rights of women combines with a justice system that favors English speakers, that does not provide for impartial interpreters, or that allows stereotypes about immigrant communities to interfere with victims' access to relief. The themes that emerged from the responses of the immigrant women, social service providers, and family and immigration attorneys confirmed that in the lives of immigrant women, gender interacts with immigration status in ways that intensify and compound the abuse they experience. Anti-immigrant sentiments further compound the plight of all immigrants, heightening their insular existence and their suspicion of outsiders, including agents of the justice system. The study advises that both the justice and the social service systems must expand their capacity to adequately serve immigrant populations by hiring multicultural staff in law enforcement, the courts, and legal and social service agencies. Further, efforts to reach immigrant victims/survivors and provide them with information about the criminality of domestic violence, options, and available services must be systematized. Materials on the legal rights of battered immigrants should be developed at the national level and distributed to justice system, social services, legal services, and health care programs throughout the country. For the short term, this study recommends that justice system agents focus their training efforts at the initial contact level by honing interviewing and assessment techniques. At all contacts with immigrant victims, police, prosecutors, and the courts must use impartial translators if bilingual officers are not available. Other recommendations offered in this report pertain to ways in which the justice system and social and legal services can be made more accessible and effective in helping immigrant women victimized by domestic violence. 84 references and appended descriptions of relevant legislation

Date Published: May 1, 2003