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Immigrants in Abusive Relationships

Leaving an abusive relationship is complex, and here are some reasons according to research: risk of violence and revenge, fear and self-doubt, low confidence and low self-esteem, hoping things will change, gaslighting, and various games the abuser plays making the individual hoping for a better future, cultural stigma around divorce,etc.

" Rate of domestic violence is 3X higher in immigrant families compared to the national average."

Unfortunately, despite the elevated rate of abuse among immigrants, separation is less likely due to the following reasons:

  • cultural normalization of harm,

  • saving face,

  • gender role expectations,

  • the need to protect family honor,

  • arranged marriage system,

  • lack of supportive family and community,

  • not being aware of the laws,

  • lack of fluency in English which limits their ability to support themselves and their children,

  • ...

This information leaves us scratching our heads and wondering what we should do, especially during the pandemic when the abuser stays home with the physically isolated victim for a prolonged period.

That is why in our podcast series, we talked about the issue to raise awareness:

EZ39 is a story of a woman from Guatemala who migrated as a young child and felt like an outcast throughout her life: both during childhood as an impoverished student in a private school and an adult seeking a divorce in a community that embraced machismo and material goods. After being divorced for five years, she is coming to terms with her trauma and hopes to bring awareness to abused women living in cultures that frown upon divorce.

EZ42 is a story of an immigrant psychologist abused by her father until the child protective services saved her. As a psychologist and faculty who educate other therapists, she educates our audience on various cultural aspects of abuse. She talks extensively about the concepts of saving face, gender roles, normalization of abuse by BIPOC community, lack of thorough understanding of domestic abuse, and community's role in the abuse cycle.

But we know we are only scratching the surface. If you listened to our 32nd episode, you heard how undocumented immigrants and their children are targets of sex abuse and how easily the abuser uses immigration to control the victim.

The question is, does it end there?

No! Trauma is a cycle, and if not healed, it affects all of us as a society. So even if you don’t look at the issue with a humanitarian lens, think about how the traumatized will impact our communities and our country.

What should you do?

a. Talk about it, share our episodes to bring awareness to the public,

b. Listen to the abused and become their confidant if you can. Let them know you see signs of abuse. Most often, the abused are unaware of the abusive behavior and for the reasons our guests talked about extensively. Hear and acknowledge their fear of leaving. Please provide them with the resources and knowledge. It takes an average of 7X, according to research, until the victim cuts ties completely.

c. Know about the resources available to them.

d. Take action if you see signs of abuse! Talks with professionals and support lines to choose the best option for yourself and your family!

Additional Reading and Resources:

Why don’t women leave abusive relationships?

Risk and Protective Factors of Intimate Partner Violence Among South Asian Immigrant Women and Perceived Need for Services:


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