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Violence against Immigrant Women

One of the toughest forms of crime to deal with is the violence that occurs within the
boundaries of citizens private lives. Violence in the household adds many unfamiliar factors and
grey areas in the crime fighting scheme. In the case of domestic violence against immigrant
women, it is difficult for law enforcement to intervene and make a positive difference. This is
because there are many boundaries between policing tactics and the personal nature of
violence between men and women in the family setting. Cultural norms of some immigrating
populations such as asian, latino and middle eastern may include tolerance or justification for
punishments that often involve violent behaviour. It can occur as a reaction to women trying, or
appearing, to extend themselves (and their abilities) past the confined lifestyles. Mens failure to
come to terms with womens liberation (Singh, 192) is a driving factor for violence. Often times
male-partners methods of suppression interfere with the laws that criminalize the physical and
verbal abuse in receiving countries. Researchers Perilla, Bakeman, & Norris (1994) found that
immigration status, english proficiency, prejudice, and cultural aspects were linked to the
occurrence of the abuse. (Menjivar and Salcido, 902). It is important to consider immigrantspecific stressors that set apart the experiences of foreign woman for specific study. The
purpose of this paper is to weigh in the primary factors of class, gender, and race and draw
attention to the specific case of domestic violence among immigrant women.

Being of immigrant status in the situation of domestic violence adds many more
problems for the victim. This is particularly true for those families who immigrate from
developing countries where womens rights are undermined. Immigrant women who become
more acculturated to the american lifestyle may invest themselves in adopting new roles, new
behaviors and conform less to gender based norms, which can result in increased male efforts
for control and resistance (Raj, 370). Research by Bui and Morash et al. (1998-2000) shows

that gender violence is more prevalent in relationships where men hold more traditional gender
roles than their wives. Patriarchal ideologies are prevalent in many immigrating ethnicities and
can even be universal, their local expression varying according to the social positions of the
immigrants and historical specificities of their migration. (Menjvar 1999). There are subsets of
different patriarchal constraints imposed on women based on different sociocultural contexts.

There is a higher chance of physical violence occurring in these families and a lower
chance that the victim has the means to obtain any form of help. Studies by Nelson (1996) back
this information for some populations among Latin American, Asia, and Africa, where rates of
physical abuse have hit 60% and beyond (Menjivar, 901). Western communities of strong
diversity, such as Toronto, embrace the cultures and lifestyles of the many immigrants that
reside. However, with that rich culture, certain ideologies and dogmas remain intact contrary to
basic civil rights fundamental in the western world. Some of these ideologies are in general
strongly family-oriented, but of concern is when domestic violence can be directly associated
with these attitudes.

Immigrant-specific gender roles place home-life responsibilities largely onto the woman,
and that of providing financial sustenance onto the man. This duality puts women in a situation
where they rely on the income of their husbands to survive. Language barrier makes it more
difficult to access resources and limits the channels or outlets available for reaching out from the
abusive relationship. It also negates the option for immigrant women from being able to get a
decent job and provide for themselves should it have to come to that. (Raj, 374) Isolation from,
and out of contact with, family and community forces women to go outside their comfort zone to
seek help.
To highlight the intersectionality of this, racial stereotypes affect how domestic violence
against immigrant women is viewed and addressed. Commonly, there are ideas that immigrants

from certain regions are inherently more violent, possessing inhumane, barbaric or violent
tendencies. This is noted ...there has been a common tendency to stereotype domestic
violence in some ethnic groups as an inherent part of their cultural repertoire.(Menjivar and
Salcido 901). Televised reports of atrocities against women in the middle east and india for
example may give the indication that immigrated women from these regions may still be facing
similar problems.

Social context of domestic violence against women in the household was evident in the
1950s, including the normalization of physical aggression through its display in popular media.
There are subtle examples in American media and culture where it is used as entertainment in
reality and scripted television. Television series such as The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy
allude to physical violence towards their spouses (Singh, 193) in a humorous way. This
coincides with attitudes of that time where it was acceptable for a man to hit his wife in order to
keep her in line with her intended role; whether it be for the sake of the marriage, family or to
protect his own reputation. Aside from humor, men are often portrayed as physically dominant in
moments of passion, anger or revenge. More relevant shows like Married with Children and
Family Guy also demonstrate obvious displays of male dominance. It is done through the use
of insults and intentionally disrespectful behaviour; there is a general attitude of male
protagonists undermining their wives. Reality TV shows come off as fun and easy
entertainment but raise concerns over the constant portrayal of physical violence between men
and women to reap good ratings. (Espitia, 2012).

Although domestic violence may be a big problem among the native population,
Immigrant-specific factors exacerbate the already vulnerable position.(Menjivar and Salcido,
899). One critical factor which is a main concern is the legality of womens immigrant status.
Without permanent residence or citizenship, women may be reluctant to report their abuse in

fear of being deported. In fact, women fear the security of their entire family to be in jeopardy if
they call attention to themselves. This is especially true when women are listed as dependents
on their husbands applications and the legality of their living arrangement relies on their
spouses. From the washington post, about 300 men are deported per year after being reported
as abusers, and their wives with them. (Menjivar, Salcido 908).

Law enforcement has never specialized in sorting out complex interpersonal disputes.
The response from police officers diminishes further when dealing with immigrants, some
considering it a waste of time because violence is inherent in their lives (Menjivar and Salcido,
901). A cop culture exists where officers are more inclined to do work in which they actively
fight crime, whereas in responding to domestic violence there is a stigma of policing being
reduced to social work. (Singh, 193). Male-dominated law enforcement tends to hold patriarchal
views that Revealed that officers were often reluctant to arrest men.

Left unaddressed, abuse causes long-term effects among the victims. Children and
spouses become estranged within the family. Social development of children is hindered, lasting
psychological impressions that can affect behaviour for many years after, and often for life.
Witnessing and experiencing violence in the closeness of home can cause trust issues and
difficulties with future relationships. According to the American Psychological Association,
Witnessing violence, in general, has been associated with emotional, behavior, and learning
problems in children (Penelope, 1998). Violence in the home erodes at a child's feelings of
safety and protection in this familiar environment.

For American homes, domestic violence has been curbed over the past few decades,
beginning in the 70s with feminist groups. They actively challenged the dismissive attitude of
patriarchal institutions of government and departments of justice. This involvement also brought

to light how the issue is largely societal and integrated into popular culture spanning outside the
home. Newer, broader ways of looking at the issue superseded the traditional thought focused
on isolated cases of the individuals psychological problems. Feminist movements used
biological positivistic emphasis of male dominance to enforce their view that any man has the
potential to be a perpetrator. So instead of continuously treating the problem on a case by case
method, there was more of a call to rethink the structure of gender in society.

One of the most profound responses to the feminist reformists was the introduction of
mandatory sentencing. The london police issued a directive stating that charges are to be laid in
all cases where there was evidence of an assault taking place. The change in law was
prompted by a study by the London Coordinating Committee on Family Violence department
which found charges were only laid against abusers in 3% of cases involving women abuse.
Furthermore, 20% of cases shown victims needed medical attention (Singh, 196.), which is a
clear indicator that physical violence took place. The change was controversial as it has the
potential to help and hurt the victims situation, some feminists were unsure about investing in
the patriarchal judicial system to solve the problem: ...not all felt comfortable with allying
themselves with the police and the courts. (Singh, 195). Despite this, the change was crucial in
the following creation of zero tolerance strategies in Canada, and the negligence that plagues
the issue was put in the past. (196)

Mandatory sentencing did have some unseen detrimental effects on the situation. There
situations when prosecution carries forward to trial against the will of the victim. It is
documented that zero-tolerance policies have the potential to jeopardize immigration
prospects (Singh, 197). Mandatory arrest policies in domestic violence cases sometimes result
in the arrest of both the male perpetrator and female victim, immigrant women seeking police
help for abuse may also risk their own deportation if convicted through this process. (Raj, 387).

It is clear that the severity of domestic violence is heightened when pertaining to an

immigrant woman, and that there is more of a risk for certain populations. In Violence Against
Women Vol. 8, it is stated that the prevalence of physical and sexual victimization is higher
among Latina, South Asian, and Korean immigrants (Dutton, Orloff and Hass, 2000). More
concerning is male-partner-perpetrated homicide data from 2000 in NYC shows immigrant
women represent a higher amount of the victim (Fry, Wilt and Schomberg, 2000). There have
been many successful strides to combat domestic violence, but no-drop charges have also
posed new challenges to victims. There is no clear-cut solution to this problem and domestic
violence among immigrant women is an area that needs more study.


[1] Singh, Rashmee (2011). Criminology: Critical Canadian Perspectives. Toronto, ON: Pearson
Canada. (pp. 191-204).

[2] Raj, Anita (2002). Violence Against Immigrant Women: The Roles of Culture, Context, and
Legal Immigrant Status. Sage Publications

[3] Menjivar, Cecilia (2002). Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence: Common Experiences in
Different Countries

[4] Trickett, Penelope K. (Ed); Schellenbach, Cynthia J. (Ed), (1998). Violence against children
in the family and the community.

[5] Espitia, Amanda. (2012) The Reality of Reality TV. Huffpost Chicago. Retrieved March 23rd

[6] Canadian Council for Refugees.(2012) Violence against Non-status, Refugee and Immigrant
Women. http://ccrweb.ca/en/violence-against-women.