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Snapshots

A Whittled-Down Violence Against Women Act Could Mean Life or Death for Immigrant Women

Silvia's family thought they were protecting her when they sent her away to the United States at the end of her sixth-grade year. She had just given birth to a daughter. The father was a friend of Silvia's family, an older man who began sexually abusing Silvia when she was 13. Silvia left Guatemala to join her father and sister, who were already living in the north. Her daughter would be raised by her abuser's mother.

Silvia, who withheld her legal name as a safety measure, told her story in Spanish to a group of reporters, covering over ten years of her life in a matter of minutes with the studied composure of someone who knows the horror of her words is not their only force. She is a client of the Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), which convened the June meeting along with the Latina organization Casa de Esperanza.

Her father told her she needed to earn money, so her new life in the United States began with a restaurant job, where she met another older man. “We started to become friends,” said Silvia. “Our relationship became intimate and after a time, I realized I was pregnant.”

She moved in with him, but kept her new living situation a secret from her father. For the first two months, her partner treated her well. Then the emotional abuse began. By that time, Silvia’s father had discovered her deception and he was so furious he refused to speak to her. Their estrangement made for easy ammunition. “No one loves you,” Silvia’s partner told her. “No one wants you.” Silvia said she felt like she had nowhere to go. Two months later, the physical abuse began. Silvia’s voice breaks for the first time when she recounts how he pushed her, how he kept her locked in their apartment, only letting her leave to run errands or buy cleaning supplies. She was 16 years old.

According to Casa de Esperanza’s Director of Public Policy Rosie Hidalgo, the dark years in Silvia’s past follow an all-too-common thread. Abusive spouses whose victims live in the United States without documentation have incredible power, explained Hidalgo in Spanish, if they know their partners will avoid contact with law enforcement for fear of deportation. “They use [the victim’s immigration status] as a tool of the abuse,” said Hidalgo.

Enter the Violence Against Women Act VAWA), an 18-year-old law supporters say could mean the difference between life and death for women like Silvia. VAWA’s wide-reaching provisions aim to support domestic and sexual violence victims – and since 2000, victims of dating violence and stalking – via measures ranging from funding for shelters and police training to programs improving coordination among agencies and community organizations charged with holding perpetrators accountable.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE: A Whittled-Down Violence Against Women Act Could Mean Life or Death for Immigrant Women.

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