Fear of deportation prevents many Latina women from reporting abuse, new survey finds

Latinos are more likely than the population at large to talk to their friends and families about domestic violence and sexual assault, and to intervene when they see it occur. But when it comes to reporting abuse, fear of deportation remains a barrier for many Hispanics.

According to an Avon Foundation survey released Tuesday by several Latino advocacy groups, more than 40 percent of Latinos surveyed say they believe the primary reason Latino victims may not come forward is fear of deportation.

“The level of violence is similar, but the obstacles that they have and also the solutions are different,” said Juan Carlos Areán, senior director of the national arm of Casa de Esperanza, an organization aimed at ending domestic violence in the Latino community and one of the groups behind the study.

Areán speculates the findings may have something to do with the importance of the social and family units within the Latino community and a tendency to “rely on each other rather than systems.”

Advocates say they will use the study, commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women for the Latino advocacy group Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network and No More, a national campaign to end domestic violence, to inform “No Más,” a new domestic violence and sexual assault awareness campaign aimed at Latinos.

The data comes two years after a broader Avon survey of the general population, and is, the organizations say, the largest and most comprehensive survey of how the issues impact the Latino community.

The results are based on phone interviews conducted in both English and Spanish with 800 Latinos age 18 and older.

For victim-turned-advocate Juana Studier, 30, the new data draws welcome attention to an issue that for so long kept her in the shadows.

For more than a year, Studier’s now ex-husband basically held her prisoner, beating her and preventing her from going to school, holding a job, having a phone, even speaking to friends. Every time she thought about running, he threatened to take away their newborn baby, Alexis, now four.

“I was afraid of leaving,” Studier told Fusion during a phone interview.

Studier, who is of Mexican-American descent, is not alone.

According to the survey, more than half of Latinos in the United States know a victim of domestic violence and one in four know a victim of sexual assault.

Exactly what the “No Más” campaign, to be launched during Hispanic Heritage Month during the fall, will look like is still a work in progress, Areán said, but the new survey gives the team several things to consider.

Areán says he hears from Latino men who are nervous to “get involved with the law,” so the campaign will seek, he said, to “create new ways to think about bystander interventions.” Another fear that will need to be addressed, he added, is that children will be unduly removed from a home. Right now, children of color make up a disproportionate number of the young people in foster care.

Studier remained paralyzed with fear until an escape attempt in the summer of 2011. While she was able to break free for more than a month and move into a place of her own, Studier’s husband tracked her down that fall.

In October, he broke into the home she was sharing with Alexis, beat her to a pulp, kidnapped the pair and took them to his mother’s home, where he was living at the time. Suspicious, his mother called police, who arrested Studier’s husband. Studier and her daughter were placed into a shelter, where she says a supportive team of advocates helped her pick up the pieces of her life, caring for her medical needs and helping her bring her husband to justice through a complicated court system.

He is now serving 76 years in prison.

“Things have gotten a lot better,” she said.

Groups participating in the No Más campaign hope they can achieve similar results for other Latinos.

“There is a lot of hope actually around this issue,” Areán said, “and I think that’s fantastic.”

Hope is something Studier is becoming more accustomed to feeling. These days, she is working toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and aspires to be a probation officer to “help people.” During her spare time, Studier volunteers at Bluewater Safe Horizon, the domestic violence shelter that provided a refuge for her and her daughter after the attack.

“Things have gotten a lot better,” she repeated. “A lot better.”