When she was 18 years old, María* went to the United States to escape the gangs in her country. A few months after the settlement, while working to try to pay off the loan for her trip, she met the man who would become her husband and the father of her first daughter. Although “in the beginning everything was fine,” after two years, “problems started; he beat me; he insulted me.”
María and her little daughter were victims of physical and emotional violence for many months, and her story joins the millions of women who every year experience this evil that continues to increase in the United States.
“I said not me and my daughter can suffer, because he mistreated us both. He told me that I have to lie because if I say anything, he will kill me,” María told the Voice of America.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 34.4% of Latinas in the US say they have experienced domestic violence at some point in their lives. A number that exceeds the national average of the country.
Although María escaped her initial state of violence, In a new job, a year later, she met the father of her minor children, who for many years repeated a pattern of abuse against her and her children.
“The man hit me, grabbed my neck… I freed myself from an abusive situation and fell into the same thing,” she said. One day, in the middle of a violent episode, he managed to contact the authorities.
“When he grabbed me by the neck, he threw me on the bed; when he dropped me on the bed, he jumped on top of me; he held me with both hands; he took a pillow and put it on my face; I was suffocating. , I said that’s it.”Maybe I came; they will kill me,”, said María. The police managed to enter his house, freed him, and arrested the man, who was sent to prison with a deportation order.
The CDC points out that one in three Latinas in the US will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and one in twelve has experienced it in the past year. “That means you can walk around the world and someone you know is probably suffering in silence at the hands of someone who says they love them,” said Katie Ray-Jones, executive director of Domestic Violence Support Line.
Ray-Jones emphasizes that domestic violence, in addition to the physical phenomenon, can also be emotional, with threats and intimidation, or financial, with money control. “It really puts a lot of victims and survivors in a position where they can’t leave the relationship because they feel like they can’t be independent,” she explained.
Today, María receives psychological help in an attempt to overcome the traumas left by violent encounters in her life. An effort supported by Ana Artiga, a social visitor and survivor of domestic violence
“I want to help immigrants, immigrant mothers, so they don’t go through what I went through; at least give them guidance and education so they don’t feel alone, like I do,” she said in VOA.
Artiga experienced violence from an abusive partner 15 years ago and now helps women like María, connecting them to resources and organizations. “And I inform you, if you travel so far and have the courage to change the conditions of your life there, why not do it here? If we have privilege here, we have laws that support us.”
Fear is like a machine of silence
Organizations that defend victims of domestic violence point out that the main challenge facing the Latino community is a lack of knowledge about their rights and the programs and resources that protect them.
US immigration laws provide protection mechanisms for those who have suffered domestic violence in this country. Among them is the U visa, which provides protections for those who have suffered physical or mental abuse due to criminal activity. Among them are domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment.
The second immigration option is the VAWA law, which makes victims of “serious cruelty” committed by a US citizen or permanent resident eligible for permanent residence.
“Every person who experiences this should have the courage to call the police, report it, or even request a protection order without affecting their situation,” explained Sirena Clark, an advocate for DC Safe, an organization in Washington that works to help survivors of domestic violence.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline receives nearly one million calls, chats, and text messages each year. Ray-Jones explained that roughly 17% of this is from the Latino community.
“We want to let people know that no one deserves to be abused and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. And we want people to ask for help,” he said. “We also know about the language barriers that sometimes exist for anyone who speaks a language other than English and what their rights are when they go to court.”
In María’s case, while she waits for a resolution on her immigration petition, she says what keeps her going amid challenges are her children. “My children are my driving force, because they are what I fight for every day. It’s not just me; I know there are many women who are going through the same thing. Well, I told them to get help,” he concluded.