Fear Of Deportation May Be Keeping Latino Victims Of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault From Seeking Help

04/21/2015 06:19 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015

WASHINGTON -- A new study of the Latino community's views on domestic violence and sexual assault found that, as in surveys of the population as a whole, many believe Latino victims don't come forward because they fear losing their children or facing more violence.

But the study, released Tuesday, found that many Latinos think victims also may be afraid to go to police for a different reason: concern that it could lead to them being deported.

The study was commissioned by the Avon Foundation on behalf of No More and Casa de Esperanza. It was conducted by Lake Research Partners. The results will be used as the groups shape the No Más campaign with Verizon this fall, aimed at spreading awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault and encouraging bystanders to intervene.

The poll found that more than half of Latinos, 56 percent, said they knew someone who had been a victim of domestic violence. Twenty-eight percent said they knew someone who had been a victim of sexual assault.

Asked what might be keeping Latino victims from coming forward, 41 percent of those polled said the primary reason was likely fear of deportation.

That was the case for Delfina Rojas Ayona, 46, an immigrant from Mexico who spoke Tuesday at a briefing on the new poll on Capitol Hill. She said through a translator that she was abused by her former husband for more than two decades before she got help from police. At one point, while she was living in the U.S. without authorization, her boss noticed the bruises on her neck, and his secretary told her she could go to the police, she said.

"I didn't do it because I was terrified that I would be deported and his family would end up doing something to my children," Ayona said through a translator.

Immigration advocates often cite domestic violence as a key reason to keep police out of immigration matters. Police sometimes arrest both parties at first and then charge only the abuser, but simply taking the victim's fingerprints could put the victim at risk of deportation. Law enforcement in many jurisdictions has resisted working with immigration authorities in part to encourage victims to feel safe in coming forward.

There are some protections for victims of abuse, and Ayona eventually heard about them. Her brother heard on the news that victims of domestic violence could be eligible for a special visa, called a U-Visa, if they cooperated with police investigating criminal activity. She applied for and received the visa, and now she and her children are living in the country legally.

Ayona now speaks to other women about getting out of abusive relationships. The No Más campaign aims to encourage more Latinos to talk to their friends and children about sexual assault and domestic violence.

One of the positive findings of the survey was that many Latinos are doing so already, said Juan Carlos Areán, senior director of the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities at Casa de Esperanza.

The study found that 61 percent of Latinos who knew someone suffering from domestic violence said they intervened; 60 percent of those who knew a victim of sexual assault said they did something to help them.

More than half of Latino parents, 54 percent, said they had spoken to their children about domestic violence and sexual assault. Fifty-seven percent of Latinos said they spoke about the issues with friends.

"The good news is that the community seems to be ripe for this kind of information and intervention," Areán said in an interview.

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