Addressing Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Critical Issues for Culturally Competent Services

This Applied Research paper provides an overview of the methodological issues in research used to generate knowledge of the nature and dynamics of domestic violence in immigrant communities, the research findings that help us understand the broad contexts within which immigrant women experience domestic violence, and provides some considerations for culturally competent services.

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VAWnet Summary:

Addressing Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Critical Issues for Culturally Competent Services by Sheetal Rana in consultation with Leni Marin (February 2012)

In Brief:

Immigrant women are a diverse group of women from different socio-cultural and economic backgrounds and with individual histories and biographies. At the same time, as immigrant women, they may share certain experiences and everyday realities. These differences and similarities among immigrant women pose challenges in addressing domestic violence in immigrant communities and highlight the importance of culturally competent services to immigrant survivors.

Knowledge of domestic violence in immigrant communities can be a useful guide in developing and implementing culturally competent services. However, relatively little research exists on domestic violence in immigrant communities.

  • Most have methodological limitations, including exclusion or uneven attention to certain groups, aggregation of subgroups of immigrants, lack of attention to socio-cultural context, and limited comparability of findings (Yoshihama, 2008).
  • Most qualitative studies of domestic violence in immigrant communities are based on relatively small samples of specific immigrant groups, generating a greater understanding and knowledge of domestic violence but only among those directly studied.
  • Studies of domestic violence in immigrant communities have found that various aspects of immigrant survivors’ lives intersect to make their domestic violence experiences somewhat different from that of non-immigrant survivors.
  • A survivor’s immigration status influences her access to legal protections, which in turn influences her risk for domestic violence (Crandall et al, 2005; Acevedo, 2000).
  • Financial independence can provide means to escape violence, but many survivors have limited financial resources (Erez et al., 2009; Crandall et al., 2005; Bhuyan et al., 2005).
  • Survivors’ communities and extended families may contribute to domestic violence by pressuring survivors to stay with the abuser, stigmatizing those who leave or report violence to police, and by participating in abuse (Abraham, 2000a; Bui, 2003; Dasgupta, 2005).
  • Many survivors experience social isolation, which may be a deliberate strategy used by their partners or because their families and friends are in their country of origin (Abraham, 2000a; Erez et al., 2009; Sullivan et al., 2005).
  • Survivors respond to domestic violence with various strategies, ranging from active resistance to passive acceptance of violence (Erez et al., 2009; Abraham, 2000b; Crandall et al., 2005).

These research findings and others highlight the need for several culturally competent approaches to providing services to immigrant survivors. These include increasing survivors’ access to information about domestic violence and services available, offering culturally specific shelter and other services, helping survivors adapt to life and work in the U.S., helping survivors with VAWA self-petition, and working with survivors’ communities to prevent domestic violence. Additionally, it is crucial to engage in a continuous process of learning and applying the knowledge gained in scale up culturally competent services immigrant women survivors and their communities.

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