advocacy with immigrant survivors toolkit


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Safety Alert: If you believe your computer activities are being monitored, please access this site from a safer computer. To immediately exit this site, click the escape button. If you are in immediate danger, contact 911, a local crisis line, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.

Safety Planning: Enhance your work


Safety planning: Practice basics


Advocates know to engage with all survivors in individualized, realistic, thorough, and ongoing safety planning. We assume that you are working with survivors to identify and take appropriate steps, such as storing important documents, bank information, and keys in a safe place; telling a trusted family member or friend about the abuse; retaining contact information for emergency services; documenting abuse; mapping an exit route from the home for the survivor and children; and filing for an order of protection and considering whether copies should be provided to the child(ren)’s school(s), the survivor’s employer, or any others (landlord, post office, etc.), to ensure that information about the survivor is not shared with the aggressor.


Some aspects of safety planning with immigrant survivors are similar to what you do with a broader spectrum of survivors. For example:


  • As you discuss the sexual and/or domestic violence laws, including confidentiality and privilege provisions, make sure you understand and explain the VAWA Confidentiality provision specific to immigrant survivors.
  • Immigrant survivors’ experiences can be similar to those of survivors whose social networks are very small and often tightly-knit, such as those from smaller rural communities; deaf communities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities; communities created by people with disabilities; or religious and faith communities. Safety planning may need to address not just an aggressor’s abuse and violence, but also responses from small communities, including the isolation that results from feeling rejected, judged, or stigmatized by one’s entire community.
  • Of course, some immigrant survivors do have varied lived experiences that serve as multiple points of marginalization – in addition to immigration status, this can include English proficiency, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and class, for example – which, should a survivor choose to disclose, may require shifts and refinements to safety planning.
  • Make meaningful referrals that meet the survivor’s needs, and are culturally relevant and accessible, including to persons with limited English proficiency. Remember that accessibility, in its broadest sense, means facilitating a survivor’s connections to a provider or service. One strategy is to make use of your institutional and professional power – your position, knowledge of the service system, program name recognition, English language abilities, etc., can be both a support to the survivor and also a means to help them “get in the door.” Your advocacy practices can include making that first call, a personal introduction, and/or accompaniment to the first appointment. You can reinforce referrals by offering survivors an individualized list of the organizations to which you are referring them, with providers’ contact information and a brief description of the services (e.g., local sexual/domestic violence programs, specialized sexual/domestic violence units or staff in the police department, immigrant rights organizations, legal services providers). Such a list can help organize information for a survivor to review and consider over time.
  • Offer trauma-informed supports, for example, offering to and making calls and appointments on the survivor’s behalf or alongside the survivor as requested, accompanying the survivor to meetings, and visiting the courthouse with the survivor to observe proceedings and explore the layout.


Safety planning: Enhance your practice


When working with immigrant survivors, safety planning must include ensuring survivors understand and are able to make informed choices about available forms of immigration relief. This is because evidence of eligibility and filing for immigration relief constitutes lawful presence.


As you seek to engage with an immigrant survivor in safety planning, consider the following:

1.     If requested, use a qualified interpreter who does not pose a conflict of interest.

2.     As appropriate, share resources, forms, and other useful print material that has been translated into the survivor’s own language(s).

3.     Practice active listening to build your contextual understanding of survivors’ experiences of abuse and their needs, wants, and resources.

4.     Balance your practice of active listening with one of active engagement. It is not the survivor’s responsibility to educate you regarding the laws, systems, and history of their country of origin; educate yourself on these subjects to the best of your abilities (see the intake practice guidance about culturally-sensitive encouragement and advocacy). Active listening and engagement can help you:

o   Describe differences in goals, practices, and outcomes of systems (social services, courts, law enforcement, etc.)

o   Clarify individual survivors’ needs, wants, fears, strengths, and resources in culturally-informed and relevant ways

o   Ask informed questions that build trust and understanding

5.     Assure survivors that your program’s services are available now and at any time in the future, should circumstances (e.g., immigration status or relationship with the aggressor) change and regardless of whether or not another incident of abuse or violence occurs.

6.     Work with survivors to develop ways of coping with painful and sometimes re-traumatizing interviews, e.g., order of protection hearings, arrest, or immigration court. These interviews may require they reveal intimate details of the abuse they have experienced, or confront them with barriers, slurs, and denial of services stemming from anti-immigrant biases or judgments against the survivor’s race/ethnicity or culture.[1]Also, immigration-related interviews with federal law enforcement can be very different and additionally grueling in comparison to local law enforcement interviews on issues like orders of protection or custody mediation. Suggestions might include spending time with a close friend or attending a service or meeting with a faith leader if faith is important to the survivor. Your program might also consider providing survivors with a long-distance or international calling cards to communicate with the people who will offer them comfort and strength, and build their resilience to continue moving forward through their case.[2]


[1] Both Latin@ youth and adults report experiencing discrimination based on Latin@ identity, and that discrimination is closely linked to current immigration policy. Rodríguez, R., La Voz Juvenil de Caminar Latino, Nunan, J. & Perilla, J. (2013). Participatory action research with Latin@ youth: Exploring immigration and domestic violence. National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, Casa de Esperanza.

[2] Orloff, L.E. (2013). Interviewing and safety planning for immigrant victims of domestic violence. In K. Sullivan & L. Orloff (Eds.) Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.