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Domestic Abuse and the Latinx Community – Stigma, Status and Stereotypes

The Hispanic or Latinx community form one of the fastest growing migrant groups in the UK. Around a quarter of a million Latin Americans live in the UK, with over half (145,000) in London (1). Latin Americans are the second fastest growing non-EU migrant population in London (2).

But the growth of the population is not met with the same development in support and resources available to the victims of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence from the community. Figures of Latin women affected by domestic abuse are startling. In particular, 4 in every 5 Brazilian women in London has experienced some kind of violence and the issue is considered “alarmingly widespread” (3). The issue has been met with such concern that women’s charity, Latin American Women's Rights Service (LAWRS) implemented their Step Up Migrant Women campaign in March 2019(4) in an attempt to raise awareness of the need for safer reporting mechanisms for victims. The #StepUpMigrantWomen, set up by LAWRS and led by a coalition of migrant women’s organisations, have also evidenced extensively the impact of hostile environment policies on survivors reporting incidents of violence and abuse to the police.

Historically, the Latinx population has faced limited access to resources related to health, education, housing, and public assistance (5). Latin Americans’ lack of access to health services is particularly worrying with at least 1 in 6 not being registered with a GP(6).  Similar to other migrant communities in the UK; language barriers, cultural differences, and uncertain immigration status have been just a few of the many factors resulting in delays in victims reporting and/or leaving perpetrators.

Gender roles and cultural values

Studies and reports examining femicide rates in Latin America indicate that the issue is wide-spread, deeply entrenched and according to the Population Reference Bureau “an ongoing threat to women” in Latin America and the Caribbean (7). Latin America already has the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, with Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, El Salvador and Bolivia representing 81% of global cases (8). According to the Gender Equality Observatory for Latin America and the Caribbean, of the countries with the top 25 highest femicide rates, 50% are in Latin America, with number one being El Salvador(9). In 2019, 571 women in Colombia were murdered in femicides(10) with just 13% of cases resulting in a conviction. The Atlantic Council reports that 10 women are killed violently each day in Mexico, the highest rate of femicide in Latin America(11).

Arguments have been made that a culture of machismo is a contributing factor (although not the only factor) to attitudes towards women and girls in the context of domestic and intimate partner violence in the Latin community(12). Although, extremely diverse, the most salient of cultural values within the Latin community is that of family orientation and expectation of gender roles(13). Many Latin mothers stated that they had delayed or remained in abusive relationships for the sake of their children, prioritising their children over their own safety(14). Due to strong ties to family and attitudes towards loyalty, many Latin women have reported sharing their concerns of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence with other family members, female friends or neighbours preferring this over reporting to healthcare workers, medical providers or law enforcement.

A wider issue is that of the attitudes towards violence against women and girls generally and not just in the context of intimate partner violence or domestic abuse. A King’s College London study reaching 195 Brazilian women in London found that almost half of the women (48%) had experienced some form of gender-based violence in the UK and that most of the violence happened at work and most perpetrators were colleagues or line managers (a quarter)(15). A study by Latin American Women’s Rights Service in July 2019 revealed that 16% of the women endured a total of 13 different types of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace(16).

Uncertain immigration status

One of the most common forms of gender-based psychological abuse of migrant women relates to the manipulation of immigration status by intimate partners(17) as a means of controlling victims through fear and intimidation. Like with many other migrant communities, the immigration status of victims as well as their ability or lack thereof, to speak English, is often a crucial factor as to whether or not complaints against perpetrators are reported. Additionally, misconceptions or a lack of understanding of available resources and a fear of separation from children often contributes to delayed reporting of abuse. The Coalition of Latin American Organisations in the UK (CLAUK) and LAWRS in their July 2020 report(18) found that migrant women victims of domestic abuse with uncertain immigration status resulting in no resources to public funds are the most vulnerable. By finding it virtually impossible to access refuge and financial support, as well as access to interpreters when contacting local authorities or statutory services. This resulting in many women staying and/or returning to their perpetrators due to a lack of options.

In addition to fears which may come as a consequence of uncertain immigration status, matters are further compounded by a lack of confidence in service providers or the criminal justice process by members of the Latinx community in the UK.

Although hypermasculinity and male dominance are often argued as being contributing factors to issues surrounding domestic abuse in the context of minority communities, in particular Latin communities, most western cultures are organised in a patriarchal structure placing a higher value on masculinity than femininity. This placing of value, inevitably resulting in the promotion of gender norms that drive intimate partner violence, traditionally rooted in a need for control(19).

Although there is a drive towards inclusion, there are obvious setbacks being caused by linguistic barriers and a lack of available access to resources as a result. Without greater awareness of services and resources available for those managing abusive relationships or living in abusive households, delays will continue. As with most aspects of domestic abuse, tackling the issue of available services for victims is a prevention rather than a cure and if the statistics at a grass-roots level are to be tackled, that would take a confrontation of cultural and attitudinal ideals which strike at the heart of communal identity.

Christina Warner

Goldsmith Chambers

April 2021

1  Towards visibility: the Latin American community in London, Cathy McIlwaine and Diego Bunge. July 2016.

2  Op cit

3  https://lawrs.org.uk/blog/2019/03/20/we-cant-fight-in-the-dark-brazilian-women-facing-violence/

4  Op cit

5  Vulnerable Bodies: Domestic Violence in the Hispanic/Latinx Community During a Pandemic, Karina Elizabeth Vázquez, Sadie Wenger and Danny Frascella. Latin American, Latino and Iberian Studies Faculty Publications, 15 October 2020.

6  Written evidence submitted by the Coalition of Latin American Organisations in the UK (CLAUK) and Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) (CVB0040), July 2020 <https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/8642/pdf/>

7  https://www.prb.org/resources/domestic-violence-an-ongoing-threat-to-women-in-latin-america-and-the-caribbean/

8  https://reliefweb.int/report/brazil/double-pandemic-gender-based-violence-latin-america-and-early-experience-women-during

9  https://oig.cepal.org/en/indicators/femicide-or-feminicide

10 http://observatoriofeminicidioscolombia.org/index.php/seguimiento/412-571-feminicidios-en-colombia-en-el-ano-2019

11 https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/content-series/diversity-equity-inclusion/women-protest-for-their-lives-fighting-femicide-in-latin-america/

12  A Pandemic Within a Pandemic Across Latin America, USA Today, 24 August 202, <https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2020-08-24/violence-against-latin-american-women-increases-during-pandemic >

13  Intimate Partner Violence among Latino Women: Rates and Cultural Correlates, Chiara Sabina, Carlos A. Cuevas & Elizabeth Zadnik. Journal of Family Violence volume 30, pages35–47 (2015).

14  “I’m a mother first”: The influence of mothering in the decision-making processes of battered immigrant Latino women. U. A. Kelly,.  Research in Nursing & Health, 2009. 32(3): p. 286-97.

15  https://www.kcl.ac.uk/research/violence-against-women-and-girls-in-transnational-perspective-in-rio-de-janeiro-and-london

16  https://www.trustforlondon.org.uk/publications/unheard-workforce-experiences-latin-american-migrant-women-cleaning-hospitality-and-domestic-work/

17  https://stepupmigrantwomenuk.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/the-right-to-be-believed-full-version-updated.pdf

18  https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/8642/pdf/

19  Addressing Domestic Violence Against Women: An Unfinished Agenda, Ravneet Kaur and Suneela Garg, Indian J Community Medv.33(2); 2008 Apr.