Understanding Domestic Violence – The Basic Facts and Figures

Domestic violence is one of the biggest issues facing – and affecting – women of all ages all over the world – including the US. Domestic violence occurs in every demographic – women of all ethnicities and at every income level are affected by it, as are their families, their friends, their careers and even ultimately their communities – and yet it is still a taboo subject that few very people like to talk about.

Here are some of the figures relating to domestic violence amongst the general female population in the US today. Hard to imagine that something so serious could be “swept under the carpet” so easily isn’t it?

  • On average the CDC estimates that in the US at least 3 women are murdered by their husbands, significant others or boyfriends every day.
  • 1 in 4 women living in the US reported having been the victim of IPV (intimate partner violence) on at least one occasion in their lives.
  • According to the CDC, over 300,000 pregnant women suffer domestic abuse at the hands of an intimate partner every year.
  • The rate of domestic violence is higher amongst women who fall into the low income category. studies conducted over the last decade have shown that women living in a household with an annual income of $25,000 or less are three times more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women in a better financial position.
  • Victims of PPV are 80% more likely to have a stroke than non victims, 70% more likely to develop heart disease, 70% more likely to abuse alcohol and 60% more likely to suffer from asthma.

With the exception of a small study carried out in 1990 most of the research into domestic violence conducted over the last twenty years has failed to show only real difference in the rate of domestic abuse of women of Latin American birth or descent and that of the general female population. There are however a number of cultural factors that often mean that Latinas react and respond to IPV in a very different way to women of other ethnicities and so in fact do the people around them.

There have been a number of studies however that have been able to demonstrate that the levels of domestic violence within certain Latin American populations are higher than others. These studies have reported the highest levels of domestic violence affect women of Puerto Rican descent, followed by Mexicans and Cubans. The very highest levels of violence have been shown to be committed by US born (not immigrant) Puerto Rican and Mexican males.

What Constitutes Domestic Violence? 

Domestic violence is abuse that can be physical or verbal and it is most often a mixture of the two. Many abusers are very adept at convincing their victim, and their victims families, that the abuse is not serious or that it does not occur at all, that the abuse exists only in their victims’ imaginations. Upon hearing this continually even the most intelligent and well educated women will often become convinced that the abuse is indeed in some way their fault, that they must have done things to provoke it – as their attacker will usually suggest – and for this reason they do not seek help but look for ways to “change” themselves instead.

Domestic Violence and Latin American Immigrants 

There are special circumstances that can make it even harder for a woman of Latin American descent, especially if she as an immigrant to the US rather than a natural born citizen, to seek help if she is living in a violent situation. In fact one study showed that 48% of the 300 women surveyed reported that their partner’s violence against them had increased in frequency and severity since they had come to live in the United States.

Often if a woman is a new immigrant to the US she may not be very comfortable with the level of her English language skills and this is something that many abusers use to their advantage. To prevent too much communication with the world at large an abusive Latin American male will often go to great lengths to make sure that his partner does not get th chance to improve their English skills or get the chance to socialize outside of a small, Spanish speaking circle of family and friends. This kind of isolation is something most abusive males will use no matter what race they are but these language and cultural barriers can make it a far more effective weapon for Latin American men.

There are a number of excellent scholarly works that have been written about the cultural differences that exist within Latin American families that exist that impact domestic violence and you can find links to them in Resources section.

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Latinas in the US and Sexual Violence

According to figures issued by the US Census Board in 2008 by the year 2050 they expect that 30% of the total population will be Hispanic. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004) one in six females over the age of 13 in the US are victims of sexual assault or rape at the hands of an acquaintance. That means if you take the Census predictions into account by the time 2050 rolls around the number of Latinas who will have experienced some form of sexual violence would reach 10.8 million.

Facts about Latinas and Sexual Violence  

A 2011 study conducted by American Association of University Women found that a large proportion of girls 13-17 who were of Latin descent or were Latin born reported that they had stopped participating in sporting and school activities at some point because of peer initiated sexual harassment.

Married Latinas are far less likely to define a forced sexual encounter with a spouse or partner as rape and many instead see it as their “duty.”

Recent immigrant Latinas are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse as they tend to rely on employers for their livelihood and have yet to develop the social connections to help them understand their rights in the workplace and their rights under immigration law.

The most vulnerable of all workers to sexual violence are female farm workers, many of whom are not legal immigrants and who live in fear of deportation if they do not comply with their employers demands on every level.

The Challenges Agencies Face when Dealing with Sexual Violence Against Latinas  

Although there are a growing number of centers and agencies that offer help and counseling to women who have been abused in the workplace many of them face huge challenges when it comes to effectively assisting Latinas. A lack of properly translated materials and a lack of bilingual staff can affect their ability to provide full support as can a lack of staff members familiar with the nuances of Latin American culture, especially in relation to family dynamics.

Fortunately many agencies are recognizing these problems and taking steps to address them in an effective manner. Those efforts are being spearheaded in part by the National Network to End Violence Against Immigrant Women. You can learn more about their work by visiting their official website here.

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Latina Workers and Workplace Abuse and Violence

Although there are a great many laws in place in the US that are designed to protect the rights of individuals in the workplace in regards to protection from sexual harassment and verbal and physical abuse from coworkers and supervisors for Latina workers in the US that is not always protection enough.

According to the  Labor Council of Latin American Advancement (LCLAA)  Latina workers – also known as Trabajadoras, make up the fastest growing sector of the US workforce. They estimate that there are over 8 million Trabajadoras working in the US, most legally, some without proper documentation, making up 12.8% of the national workforce. They are sadly, often the worst paid members of that workforce though, making on average 60 cents for every dollar that is earned by a white man. They are also often the victims of unfair labor practices, including the non payment of wages owed.

One of the biggest problems for Trabajadoras in the workplace however is sexual harassment and sexual and physical violence at the hands of coworkers and supervisors. According to US government figures half of the Latina women who died in the workplace in 2010 were the victims of physical and/or sexual assaults.

Latinas working in the food and agriculture industries in the US tend to be at the highest risk for workplace abuse. In 2011 one third of the sexual harassment claims filed by Latina women came from workers in the restaurant industry, where they represent 22% of the workforce. And in the world of agriculture according to a survey undertaken by the Southern Poverty Law Center 77% of the Latinas working in the industry in the South reported that sexual harassment was a “major problem” they faced in their every day working lives.

Many women, even those who do have all of the correct documentation to live and work in the US legally are often threatened by employers that if they speak up about abuse that the employer will contact the immigration authorities to have their victim deported. Often this would not be the case at all but many Latina workers are not always clear about the real laws that govern their status as an immigrant and abusive employers are very good at making the threats sound very real and plausible.

The LCLAA are trying to remedy the situation in some way though. They have undertaken a campaign to educate, inform and assist Latinas in the workplace about their rights and the resources that are available to them if those rights are violated. More can be learned about this campaign by visiting the Trabajadoras Campaign’s official website.

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The Effect of Intra Family Violence on Children

One of the reasons many women often give for why they stayed in an abuse relationship or did not speak up about one is that they were doing so for the sake of their children, not wanting to break up the child’s home or take them away from the other parent or guardian. There is no doubt that in some ways this is a noble sentiment and one that is easy to understand, especially in the case of Latin American families where the “family” is such an often seen as far more important than an individual and divorce is often frowned upon.

However the simple truth is that children who live in home where domestic violence occurs and have to witness that violence are usually far, far more damaged than those who were taken out of the situation. Even having witnessed just one or two instances of domestic violence can seriously affect a child though and how they feel about the situation is something that has to be taken into consideration.

How Violence Affects Children: Disturbing Statistics 

Every year  an estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence against their mothers or female caretakers by family members. (American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family,1996)

80 to 90%of children who live in homes where there is domestic violence observe that violence (Pagelow, “Effects of Domestic Violence on Children,” Mediation Quarterly, 1990)

A survey of 6,000 US households  found that 50 % of men who assaulted  their wives also abused children in the home, both their biological children and step chilildren (Pagelow, “The Forgotten Victims: Children of Domestic Violence,” 1989)

In a 36-month study of 146 children ages 11-17 who lived in violent homes , all of the sons questioned who were  over the age of 14 had attempted to physically intervene and protect their mothers from being attacked. 62% of them were injured trying to do so. (Roy, 1988)

80 percent of child deaths that occur in the family are attributable to fathers or father figures. (Bergman, Larsen and Mueller, “Changing Spectrum of Serious Child Abuse,” Pediatrics, 1986)

In families where the mother is subject to domestic abuse by the father, daughters in the families are six times more likely to be sexually abused than those who live in non-abusive families (Bowker, Arbitell and McFerron, 1988)

These are just some of the most shocking and damaging effects. A boy raised in a home where he observes his father figure abuse his mother is far more likely to grow up repeating that behavior. And a girl in the same situation is far more likely to become a victim of domestic violence herself later in life.

Most of the time children in violent homes are told, by both the abuser and the victim that they should not discuss the “family business” outside the home. The pressure of keeping this “secret” is stressful for children of all all ages and can affect their relationships with friends and other members of their families as well as their ability to complete their school work properly.

Once a child has been removed from a situation where they witnessed domestic violence they will need to be offered help and counseling along with their parents and they will need the support and understanding of all of their family to help them recover from the trauma they have experienced as well.

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