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Escaping Abuse Especially Difficult for Immigrants in Indiana

Immigrant women face many barriers to leaving an abuse relationship. Credit: Kamuelaboy/Morgufile
Immigrant women face many barriers to leaving an abuse relationship. Credit: Kamuelaboy/Morgufile
October 12, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and while escaping a domestic violence situation is not easy for victims, immigrant survivors of abuse face especially difficult challenges.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every minute in the U.S. about 20 people are physically abused by their partner, and experts say immigrant women are especially vulnerable.

Kerry Hyatt Bennett, legal counsel with the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says language barriers, distance from family and friends, misconceptions about U.S. law and financial instability make it difficult to get away.

"She is leaving security for complete insecurity, because if she's undocumented in the state of Indiana she can't get public assistance, she can't work legally, so she has no way to support her children even if her perpetrator is locked up," Hyatt Bennett points out.

But Hyatt Bennett says immigrant survivors of abuse can get help from the police, the courts and other agencies.

The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence can connect all victims of domestic violence to interpreters, counseling, safety planning, emergency housing and legal assistance.

Domestic violence includes sexual violence, economic abuse and emotional abuse. And Hyatt Bennett says some immigrants come from cultures that accept domestic violence, and victims may harbor guilt about leaving.

"There's a very real love component in most of these relationships and a lot of people don't recognize that so as bad as it can be sometimes the relationship can be very, very good and I think a lot of people are faced to choose the devil they know or the devil they don't know," she states.

Hyatt Bennett says the coalition trains law enforcement, judges and others in the legal system about the complexities of immigrant domestic violence cases. She adds that offering legal relief to immigrant survivors is not fast-tracking them into citizenship.

"There's a very large difference between making them feel secure enough where they can seek safety and access the system without implying that somehow you are waiving their immigration status into the country," she stresses.

Under the Violence Against Women Act, immigrant victims of abuse can escape a batterer and protect their families without fear of deportation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN