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National Latina Network


Realidades Latinas: The Impact of Immigration and Language Access: A National Domestic Violence Hotline Survey

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

As an individual who grew up well aware (through first hand experience) of the disparities present in our society and the significant barriers that many communities of color face, I committed myself early in my training to work in an area where I could bring awareness to such issues and in turn impact change at the societal level. I truly believe that in order to change the conditions in society, we have to be “on the ground” doing the work with individuals and communities but also working in the area of policy, impacting change on a larger scale. I am fortunate that I have found this opportunity through my work as a researcher/practitioner.

I have been asked before, “How do you address what seem to be impossibly large issues through research?” An example that I give is a survey that we conducted in collaboration with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (the Hotline), which resulted in the report, Realidades Latinas: The Impact of Immigration and Language Access: A National Domestic Violence Hotline Survey. Through this survey, we were able to bring to light language access issues and the impact of immigration policy on over 1,300 Latina survivors who called the Hotline during a six-week period. A couple of the key findings included:

  • More than 1 in 4 Spanish speaking Latinas encountered challenges accessing domestic violence related services because of language accessibility issues.
    • According to the qualitative responses, women reported issues with language access at the time that the police were called, limited language services at their local DV shelters, and issues accessing legal aid or help with the court system in their language.
  • More than 1 in 3 foreign-born Latina survey respondents indicated being afraid to call the police or go to court for help due to the heightened scrutiny of their community members’ immigration status, both actual and perceived unauthorized status.

This survey is the first, that we know of, that documents the impact that anti-immigration policies have had among Latinas survivors of domestic violence at a national level. As noted in the second bullet above, one of the most impactful findings was that although 16% of foreign-born Latinas identified having experienced difficulty with accessing services due to the immigration situation, the number more than doubled with 39% of foreign-born Latinas reporting being afraid to call the police or going to court for help due to the immigration situation. This finding documents the level of fear among Latinas regardless of documentation status. In addition, it indicates that survivors had not yet sought the services of law enforcement due to fears related to immigration status.

A similar finding was found by Latin@ youth researchers at Caminar Latino, who in collaboration with the Violence Research and Action team at Georgia State University discovered that Latin@ families in Georgia have experienced increased difficulty in accessing services and an increased fear in reaching out to authorities regarding DV for fear of deportation (to see the report visit here).

These studies are critical in brining to the forefront how social issues, such as passing ant-immigration policies and the subsequent climate of fear can negatively impact immigrant communities. In fact, in the case of domestic violence policies that create fear and mistrust in law enforcement can put survivors and their children at risk for experiencing domestic violence with limited options of support if they feel that they are unable to reach out for help.

The report which includes other important findings including some qualitative feedback, discussion of implications and recommendations for making communities safer for all survivors of domestic violence regardless of documentation status or English proficiency will be released this week at the National Latin@ Network Policy Summit in Washington D.C. It is also available here.

For me, work such as this, that brings to light issues that disproportionately impact certain communities, is the work that I am most proud of being involved in. My hope is that through our policy work and research, we, as an organization, can continue to bring to light important issues that impact our communities.

Josie Serrata
Research Manager, Casa de Esperanza


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  • Peter McMahon says:

    The most basic tenet of solving a problem is first accurately defining the problem. A principle seemingly forgotten in most opinion driven policy decisions. This brief essay provides a clear example of solid research providing invaluable data necessary to addressing a most important issue. Excellent job. 

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