Immigrant Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence is a systematic pattern of behaviors that include physical battering, coercive control, economic abuse, emotional abuse, and/or sexual violence. It is intended to gain or maintain power and control over a romantic or intimate partner to intimidate, frighten, terrorize, humiliate, blame, or injure.

Domestic violence is a universal problem, but its cultural expressions differ.

Extent of the Problem

Most domestic violence incidents are never reported.  For the incidents that are reported, there has not been conclusive research on the incidence of domestic violence in immigrant communities.  One study did find that Latino immigrants were less likely than non-immigrants to seek help for domestic violence (6.9% vs. 14.7%) but there is no information for other ethnic groups.  There is some evidence that domestic violence may not be more prevalent among immigrant populations in general. 

However, we DO know that there are many factors that make immigrant victims of domestic violence less likely to report the abuse.

Barriers to Reporting Domestic Violence

  1. Language barriers (both in accessing services and situations where the perpetrator does speak English but serves as the interpreter for the victim)
  2. Lack of knowledge about domestic violence law in the United States and Hawaii
  3. Fear that reporting the violence may lead to deportation
  4. Fear that reporting the violence may lead to separation from children
  5. Fear that the victim may be treated with discrimination or lack of understanding
  6. Fear that reporting the violence may reflect poorly on the wider immigrant ethnic community
  7. Fear that the victim will be blamed for the violence
  8. Social isolation of many immigrant women victims
  9. Mistrust of unfamiliar legal and criminal justice system (some victims are fleeing the police from their home countries)

What Services Do Immigrant Domestic Violence Victims Need?

  1. Culturally competent services
  2. Service Providers who speak the language of the victim
  3. Programs that address multiple service needs so that the women can develop enough trust to report the violence
  4. Crisis-oriented, community-based confidential counseling that includes safety planning
  5. Temporary shelters
  6. Education about the legal system and referrals to competent legal service providers
  7. Supportive advocacy to help victims build additional life skills and education on how to navigate the legal system
  8. Information to help meet victims’ need for other services including housing, employment, food and other economic resources.

What Happens If the Violence Continues?

  1. Confusion
  2. Loss of self esteem
  3. Reoccurring injuries
  4. Chronic medical conditions worsen
  5. Sabotaging of attendance at job or school
  6. Children witnessing violence are traumatized and may be more likely to become victims or batters themselves
  7. Homelessness – domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families
  8. Death  – Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner


Rana, S. (2012 February).  Addressing Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Critical Issues for Culturally Competent Services. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.

Runner, M., Yoshihama, M. & Novick, S. (2009 March). Intimate Partner Violence in Immigrant and Refugee Communities: Challenges, Promising Practices and Recommendations.  Princeton, NJ. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Futures without Violence.–facts-52.html

Yoshihama M & Dabby C.  ( 2009 September) Domestic Violence in Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island Homes. Asian & Pacific Island Institute on Domestic Violence,  A Project of Tides Center.