Hispanic survivors of sexual assault face greater obstacles to help-seeking, recovery, and justice than many non-Hispanic survivors.
October is in full swing and, even though Hispanic Heritage month has ended, we at The Center always recognize the vibrant culture of the Latinx. We strive to practice cultural sensitivity and maintain involvement in the diverse community that surrounds us. We also recognize the many challenges faced by Hispanic survivors of sexual assault, especially in the current political climate.
While statistics have shown that Hispanic populations are no more victimized than Caucasians, studies indicate that sexual violence has a greater impact on Latina survivors of sexual assault. According to a 2009 research report from Pepperdine University, the negative impact of sexual assault is greater among minority women, partly due to the intersections of “intergenerational trauma, sexism, racism, and poverty,” and partly because they face extensive barriers to finding help and protection. Latinas are proven to experience “higher rates of PTSD, depression, substance abuse, suicidality, and lowered self-esteem” as a result of sexual trauma than non-Latina victims.
Furthermore, it has become harder in recent years for racial and ethnic minorities to report crimes of personal violence. In border towns where immigration policy is an especially hot topic, reports of sexual assault and domestic violence have dropped by as much as 25%. Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police believes this is the result of fear, not a decrease in actual criminal violence. The apprehension is that “immigrants in the country illegally could risk deportation by interacting with police or testifying in court.”
These conditions generate a cycle of victimization, in which perpetrators are never apprehended and remain free to commit acts of violence against countless others.
It used to be possible for undocumented victims of sexual assault and domestic violence to report the crimes against them and find support under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. However, recent changes to immigration policy and cuts in the proposed budget for Fiscal year 2019 make it increasingly difficult for immigrant victims to feel safe coming forward.
According to a review of the 2018 policy changes, applying for documentation status through VAWA is now a complicated manipulation of red tape which, if done incorrectly in the slightest way, could put a victim on the fast track for deportation. Where the law once required Citizenship and Immigration Services to have proof of criminal conviction or other illegal activity to submit an individual for deportation, it now only necessitates suspicion of improper procedure. In other words, if an application for assistance for any service is denied, the undocumented applicant could be subject to deportation. If you forget to cross every T and dot every I, the consequences could be dire.
In addition to policy changes, the new budget for Fiscal Year 2019 cuts support for programs aimed to support minority victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. While the Administration claims this proposed budget supports victims of gender-based violence, the numbers show that cuts to every program, including those operating under the Violence Against Women Act, are expected to pass. This means not only do the policies work against immigrant survivors, but now the programs that might have stepped in to help have no money to operate.
The case for minority victims is not a hopeless one, though. The Center for Sexual Assault Survivors maintains a safe, confidential atmosphere that welcomes all survivors of sexual violence, regardless of race, ethnicity, or citizenship status. Our services are available free of charge and without proof of identity. If you or someone close to you has been the victim of sexual assault, you are welcome here.
There’s more you can do to support survivors! Not all victims are able to speak for themselves; not all survivors of sexual violence are given the right to be heard. You can speak for them and show your support. The deadline for voter registration is TODAY! If you’re not registered yet, do it now! If you’re a Virginia resident, you can do it online through the Virginia Department of Elections.