October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but the importance of raising awareness about this global problem should not end as we enter November.
Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is abuse that occurs in intimate relationships across cultures, races, ethnicities and sexual orientations and involves one person using behaviors to gain or maintain power and control over another person. The abuse may be psychological, physical, sexual, verbal or economic, or it may involve isolating the victim.
Most victims of domestic violence incidences are women, and it affects one in four women living in the United States. Foreign-born women living in the U.S. make up at least 20% of domestic violence incidences due to additional barriers they face, such as limited knowledge of the English language, fears related to immigration status, poorer socioeconomic status, lower levels of education and systemic structural issues such as racism. Approximately one in three Latinas experience physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
In addition, immigrant Latinas experience health and mental health problems due to domestic violence. For example, victims of domestic violence might experience mental health symptoms such as hopelessness, suicidal behaviors, chronic worry, stress and irritability, and many also develop mental health disorders such as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Domestic violence affects overall mental health and increases stress, which directly influences victims’ work life, personal relationships with family and friends, and self-esteem. Women who live in poverty and experience physical and sexual abuse have significantly more depressive symptoms than women who do not live in poverty.
With couples spending more time together at home as a result of the stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19, domestic violence incidences have increased, while the level of in-person engagement in services has decreased. For undocumented immigrant Latinas and their families, the problem is intensified by the fear of contacting law enforcement, a lack of knowledge about legal resources and rights, isolation, a lack of access to family support and language barriers.
My passion is helping immigrant Latinas and their families experiencing domestic violence, and my research focuses on eliminating violence in intimate relationships for all women. I created the “Yes, I Can (Sí, Yo Puedo)” empowerment program to help community-based agencies such as health care clinics and police departments assist immigrant Latinas who are victims of domestic abuse. In this program, bilingual Spanish-English speaking professionals such as counselors, social workers and domestic violence advocates conduct educational groups using a prescribed 11-week curricula focusing on understanding domestic violence dynamics, healthy characteristics of intimate relationships, self-esteem awareness and building, and access to resources and support systems within a cultural framework. If you are interested in the Sí, Yo Puedo empowerment program, you can find a copy of the book on the publisher’s website or reach out to me directly.
The best time to get involved in working to end violence against women is now. We must keep advocating for and supporting women who need help. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 (SAFE) or (800) 787-3224 for anonymous, confidential help 24/7. For more information, you can visit the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s website.
Catherine Luz Marrs Fuchsel, PhD, LICSW, LCSW, MSW, is an associate professor and director of the doctoral program in the School of Social Work.