Domestic violence is a big concern in Hispanic communities, with one out of every three women experiencing it at some point in their lives. While Hispanic women have among the highest domestic homicide rates, they also have some of the lowest rates of domestic violence reporting. The reporting rates reflect Hispanic women’s lack of confidence in the police and their fear of deportation. They also reflect the other challenges that immigrant women face, such as immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and a lack of financial independence, all of which contribute to them feeling trapped in abusive relationships.
Hispanic women may find it more difficult to leave an abusive relationship because of their immigration status. If they believe their legal status or that of their family will be used against them, women will not report their abusers to the police. Their abusers can also take advantage of their partner’s immigration status to manipulate them. For example, abusers may threaten to report their partners to immigration authorities to keep them silent about the abuse and force them to continue in the relationship.
The women who do attempt to escape abusive relationships also face challenges. Immigrant women have less access to legal and social services. As a result, they may be unaware of legal protections available to them in the United States, such as sanctuary policies, U-Visas, and VAWAs. They are also unlikely to be able to find bilingual shelters, financial support, or food. Additionally, immigrants are unlikely to receive help from a certified interpreter when reporting complaints to law enforcement, appearing in court, or seeking information about their legal rights.
In some states across the United States sanctuary policies have been adopted to protect everyone in the community regardless of immigration status. Local police do not participate in enforcing federal immigration laws in places where these policies have been adopted. Thus, the policies allow victims of crimes to report the crime to local authorities without fear of being prosecuted for immigration-related offenses. These policies empower immigrant women to report domestic violence to the police because there is no longer the fear of deportation. Furthermore, completing a police report is helpful and sometimes required when applying for legal protections like a U-Visa or a VAWA.
Sanctuary policies may help reduce domestic violence cases by giving people the certainty that they can come forward without facing any repercussions. For example, having sanctuary policies in place makes it easier to intervene in domestic violence cases before they reach domestic homicide. According to a study by the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, the rate of domestic homicide for Hispanic women decreased by 52 to 62 percent in counties where sanctuary policies were implemented.
Another way sanctuary policies could reduce domestic violence is by deterring the abusers in the first place. Some abusers continue to abuse their partners because they know their partners will not report them to the police due to their immigration status. Domestic violence can, however, be reported under sanctuary rules without including questions about immigrant status. As a result, some abusers may be deterred by the fear that their victims would report them to the authorities.