Sexual assault is a crime many people in immigrant communities face. While there is very little data regarding immigrant experiences of sexual assault, the prevalence rate is believed to be high and underreported. We see that sexual harassment and assault are common in workplaces where employees are predominantly immigrants, including farming and janitorial work. Additionally, it is estimated that 80% of women and girls entering the US through Mexico experience sexual assault on their journey. Upon arrival, immigrants may face social isolation, cultural barriers, financial dependency, and fear of deportation, putting them at higher risk for sexual victimization. Here are five considerations to keep in mind when working with immigrant survivors:
Immigrants may not know about sexual assault laws or services in the US
People who migrate to the United States, may not be aware that sexual violence is a crime. In some countries, victims of sexual assault may be prosecuted as adulterers, rather than be seen as victims of a crime. In other countries, marital rape is not considered a crime and sexual assault services, like advocacy, may not be readily available for victims. Additionally, immigrants may be unaware of the rights they have as a victim of crime. All of this means that if something does happen or has happened, an immigrant victim may not know where to go for help or that there are even services available.
In other countries,
marital rape is not considered a crime…
Undocumented victims fear deportation
Fear of deportation is a significant barrier to reporting sexual assault among immigrant victims. An undocumented person has particular rights as a victim of a crime in the US, but may fear that reporting a crime or even calling 911 means they will be automatically deported. The may also be concerned that reporting an undocumented perpetrator could get the perpetrator deported as well, which the victim might not want. Undocumented victims can often face additional barriers when accessing services. If service providers ask for legal documentation or social security numbers during intake, undocumented victims may not feel welcome or able to find services without the appropriate papers. Additionally, undocumented victims in border towns may have difficulty receiving a medical forensic exam or other services, even anonymously, if it means crossing border checkpoints, causing an additional barrier.
Undocumented victims may have legal and/or deportation concerns if they report sexual assault, and it is a best practice to screen undocumented victims for potential legal services. Under the Violence Against Women Act, if an undocumented immigrant is a victim of sexual or domestic violence, the perpetrator is their spouse or parent, and their spouse or parent is a U.S. citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident, they may be able to apply for legal status. Another legal option for victims of violent crime, including sexual assault, is the U-Visa. Additionally, a victim of trafficking may qualify for a T-Visa. Other legal options may also be available to undocumented victims. It is important to inform all undocumented victims of crime of these options and protections, as well as refer them to appropriate legal assistance, as needed.
An undocumented person
has particular rights as a victim of a crime in the US,
but may fear that reporting a crime
or even calling 911 means
they will be automatically deported.
Language and cultural factors may cause several barriers
Immigrant survivors may have language barriers preventing them from seeking services or knowing what services are available. Keep in mind, just because your program or agency has Spanish speakers, does not mean you are able to serve all immigrant victims. Trainings on cultural competency and language services are needed. Additionally, cultural factors may influence whether a victim chooses to report. Victims may be reluctant to access mainstream or governmental services, and may face pressure to stay silent. Immigrant victims may also fear that reporting or disclosing to mainstream services could lead to retaliation from or against their community.
When working with immigrant victims, it is important to provide clear information in multiple languages about what services are available and to use translation and interpreting resources, such as Language Line. It can also be helpful to ask the victim questions about potential cultural and community barriers they have, as not all immigrant communities are the same.
Invite immigrant community partners to Sexual Assault Response Teams
It is critical to build relationships and work with community partners from immigrant communities to improve services and build trust. One way to do this is by inviting community partners and leaders to the local Sexual Assault Response Team (SART). Building relationships between our programs and communities can help raise awareness about the laws, services, and rights available to immigrant survivors. Strong relationships can also improve trauma-informed responses and increase reporting among immigrant victims.
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