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Rising Above: Hispanic & Latin Survivors of Domestic Violence

Hispanic and Latin survivors come have roots in different countries with similar values. Theirs is a story that isn't always told, because speaking out can be petrifying. Reaching out can be seen as a departure from traditional values and deviation from gender roles. With a culture that places merit on strong community bonds, disclosing that domestic violence is happening to community members can shake its very foundation.

During Hispanic Heritage Month we write this blog to create a better understanding and delve deeper into how to support Hispanic and Latin survivors.

DV 101

1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner violence.

Domestic Violence is defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner by the United Nations.

These patterns can include:

  • Isolation

  • Physical Harm

  • Sexual Assault

  • Emotional Abuse

  • Coercion

  • Intimidation

  • Stalking

  • Financial Abuse

  • Reproductive coercion

  • Threatening to do any of the above

Domestic violence for immigrant survivors can also look like:

  • A harm-doer withholding or destroying immigration documents

  • Threatened with getting ICE or Homeland Security called on them; deportation

Roles and bonds

“Latino nations have many common connections among their cultural dynamics. Among these connections, a history of Spanish colonization, Roman Catholicism, family codes of loyalty, and gender role expectations…” (

Let us look at this quotation a little bit closer. The following are terms that are used to describe the values common in Latin cultures:

  • Familismo or the importance of strong family, loyalty, closeness and getting along with and contributing to the wellbeing of the nuclear family, extended family and kinship networks.

  • Machismo: Male role in society of being brave, honorable, have sexual prowess, are protector of values, and providers for the family.

  • Marianismo: the counterpart of machismo. Typically related to the women’s role in the home. This role encourages compliance, self-sacrifice, nurturing and purity.

These cultural values paired with Roman Catholicism teaches individuals that there is a sacred duty to family structure and the bonds made with a community. Marriage from this branch of Christianity is defined as a bond between a man, woman and God. Therefore the idea of divorce through this one's can be seen as a violation from The Vow made between spouses and higher power.

“Machismo also includes attitudinal beliefs that...encourages male dominance over women.” ( Nuñez, A., González, P., Talavera, G. A., Sanchez-Johnsen, L., Roesch, S. C., Davis, S. M., Arguelles, W., Womack, V. Y., Ostrovsky, N. W., Ojeda, L., Penedo, F. J., & Gallo, L. C. ,2016) With this attitudinal belief and the expectation of being the protector of values, it could be concluded that perpetrators may see this role as an opportunity to exert power and control over someone else.

With a culture that has strong community bonds anyone who has experienced domestic violence does have support while in the community. This support can help survivors through tough times. However the people providing support could also reinforce the values of the community at the same time they are helping. This could lead the survivor to feel that they need to be compliant with the role they are assigned in order to insure their survival in the domestic violence relationship. There is also the fear of losing community support and the possible alienation from loved ones.

Immigration and U.S. Born

Survivors that are immigrating to the United States can be met with a very supportive community as they make their transition to a new country. For newly immigrated individuals this can be seen as a huge comfort.

For individuals in a domestic violence relationship, immigration and living in the United States can be a constant worry. Their harm-doer can exert control by:

  • Lying to their partners about their official paperwork being done

  • Having official paperwork but their partners do not

U.S. Born Latin survivors, on the other hand, tend to have one foot in traditional Values and the other in U.S. cultural values. The traditional gender roles are still upheld within family circles but community and kinship bonds can be different because there are different communities in the same area. This can lead community members to have more individuality and similar values to their White counterparts.

Barriers for survivors

One of the first barriers for any person reaching out for help is the inability to communicate. Survivors whose first language is Spanish don't always have the easiest time communicating with someone whose first language is English. It can be hard to break this barrier but there are strategies to do so:

  • Utilizing Google Translate; chat function

  • Asking others to help translate and interpret.

  • Learning English ( or other languages) through language apps, podcasts and English speakers.

Communication is a two-way street. Service providers should also create a bilingual space for the person they serve. This is another way to meet people where they are and respecting individuals as they are.

Advocates and service providers who understand different cultures than their own and respect its values can be very important for any survivor they work with. Anyone reaching out for help wants to feel heard, and understood, without having to explain their culture, values, and community when meeting someone for the first time. If an advocate is not culturally competent this could lead anyone they work with to feel like they may not have their best interests in mind or understand how they interact with the world.

A survivor's immigration status can be a barrier as well. Many find it hard to find a job because they may not have the correct paperwork to supply to an employer. They may also fear that they cannot obtain legal services or take their abuser to court because they don't have the right legal status. However there are many programs that help individuals regardless of legal status.

Many survivors, especially those of color, may see law enforcement and other local officials as people that they cannot trust or rely on. This can be from previous interactions with law enforcement or officials. They may have tried to make reports in the past but nothing has come from their efforts. Or when the police are called nothing comes out of the call.

In Contrast

The values we were brought up with and how they are upheld in our community are what makes our communities unique. Hispanic and Latin individuals can find it hard to reach out especially to someone that they don't know or to someone who isn't either within the community or understands the community. They may also feel that there is judgment that is placed upon them if they reach out for assistance. Individuals seeking help for any traumatic experience ( domestic violence, physical or mental health) can be very hesitant to reach out initially.

It is only when connections are made with an advocate or service provider that they truly feel comfortable opening up and make the decision to work together.

How does Defy help?

The advocates of Defy know that all survivor’s journeys are unique and are worthy of recognition. We have bilingual personal advocates that work with survivors in every part of our program. We also have bilingual shelter advocates assist those who are staying in our shelter. Every survivor receives the same services:

  • Legal advocacy

  • Personal advocacy

  • Medical advocacy

  • Housing

  • Restraining orders

  • Court Accompaniment

  • Counseling

  • Support Groups

All of our advocates do what they can to make each of the survivors we work with feel comfortable working with us. From first interaction to the last.

Each survivor that we work with is going to have a different story. What makes the difference is being able to meet each Survivor exactly where they are, respecting their culture values and working together to find a way to start their healing Journey.



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