Today starts Hispanic Heritage month and I thought I would put out some thoughts and facts toward serving the Latino community in regards to sexual and domestic violence.

The Latino population is growing across our nation.  By July 2050, the projected Latino population of the United States is expected to be 132.8 million, or 30% of the total population by that date. Nearly one in three US residents will be Latinos. (U.S. Census Bureau. “An Older and More Diverse Nation by Midcentury” 2008).

According to USDoJ, (2004 stats report) one in six females age 13 and older are victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assaults.  If we then look at the U.S. Census projections, along with Latina population projections, and the one-in-six victimization estimate, by the year 2050, the number of Latinas who have experienced some form of sexual violence could reach 10.8 million.

Considering:  the levels of underreporting generally and then, perhaps more so) within this population, the various types of crimes committed against Latinos and Latinas as people of color and immigrants in particular (with the idea that the current trends of violence will continue), and with the anticipated Latino population growth there will logically be more victims of (all kinds of) crime.

While the Latino population grows across the nation, there become a rapidly increasing number of underserved Latina/o victims of sexual and domestic violence in the United States. This is due in part to limited funds, the lack of bilingual staff, Spanish language resources, and effective outreach programs.  Many communities lack the resources and bilingual victim advocates who can address the needs of Spanish-speaking victims. Limited funds have kept many victim service agencies in a state of overextension, with the demand exceeding limited service capabilities.  The majority of staff and volunteers do their best with what resources are available to meet the immediate service and needs of victims. Without a consolidated national effort to support and upgrade the bilingual human resource and program effectiveness of sexual assault agencies, many more individuals, families, and communities across the nation will continue to suffer the devastating impact of ongoing sexual violence, and sexual assault trauma and re-victimization.

Issues and barriers that impact the Latino/Hispanic communities.

Some barriers specific to the Latino community living in rural areas:  poverty, lack of public transportation systems, shortages of health care providers, under-insurance or lack of health insurance, and decreased access to many resources (such as advanced education, job opportunities and adequate child care).  These barriers make it more difficult to escape abusive relationships.  In addition, rural health care providers may be acquainted with or related to their patients and their families, creating a barrier to disclosing abuse confidentially and thus further isolating these women. Geographical isolation and cultural values, including strong allegiance to the land, kinship ties and traditional gender roles also increase the challenges faced by rural women when they attempt to end the abuse in their live. The increased availability of weapons (such as firearms and knives) common in rural households also increases both the risks and lethality of sexual violence and domestic attacks upon rural women.

Additional barriers faced by the Latino community are:  language barriers (not all Latinos speak the same language, some speak Portuguese and there are many South American dialects in the Latino community), fear of deportation (if the survivor is not a legal resident), fear of the legal system, and cultural issues (emphasis is placed on virginity in many Hispanic/Latino communities meaning that a woman or girl who loses her virginity to rape, incest, or molestation is seen as a “promiscuous” woman).

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance reports

  • 18% of Hispanic women/Latinas and nearly 23% of Hispanic men/Latinos in Virginia reported experiencing a sexual assault in their lifetimes. Prevalence of Sexual Assault in Virginia, Virginia Department of Health, April 2003.
  • Married Hispanics/Latinas are less likely than other women to immediately define their experiences of forced sex as rape and terminate their relationships; some view sex as a marital obligation. Bergen, R. K. 1996, Wife Rape.
  • 6% of victims served by Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies in 2003 were Latino.