Cultural / Community Specific Impact and Resources
Sexual and domestic violence can happen regardless of where we live, who we are, who we love, where we come from, what our economic status is, what language we speak, or what our citizenship status is. This page explores how cultural and social factors create additional challenges for some people who experience sexual or domestic violence and what we can do to help improve access to culturally specific responses, services, and resources.
Sexual and domestic violence occurs in 25-33% of lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships – approximately the same rate as in heterosexual relationships. The prevalence of abuse for people who identify as transgender or intersex and for LGBQ/T people of color is likely much higher given their additional vulnerabilities as members of communities that historically have been marginalized and oppressed. In addition to the sexual and domestic violence that occurs within relationships, the LGBQ/T community is often the target of all forms of violence – from sexual violence to murder – by others because of their sexual and gender identity or gender expression.
Under Massachusetts law, people of any gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation are protected under all sexual abuse and domestic violence laws and can get protection orders against partners, dates, wives/husbands, boyfriends/girlfriends or roommates who abuse them or against someone who has stalked or sexually assaulted them.
Sexual and domestic violence programs are also available to victims of all sexual orientations and gender identities. In addition, there are several programs in Massachusetts and around the country that specialize in providing sexual and domestic violence services for LGBQ/T communities. A trained advocate is available to discuss your needs, help you identify support services, shelters, and other resources, and refer you to services for both sexual and domestic violence.
Immigrants and refugees can face additional challenges in finding safety from abuse.
Abusers may lie to victims about their rights, use their cultural background against them, or use threats about child custody or deportation to frighten them. There is also the fear of what will happen if their abuser is held accountable: what if they are deported, how does that impact a victim who is economically dependent. The victim’s fear about their own immigration status can act as a barrier to seeking services or trusting the court system with their safety. There are cultural considerations as well, such as how communities and families will react if a victim chooses to speak out.
There are immigration, employment, housing and welfare options available.
The United States has passed two laws to help make sure that immigrant survivors/victims of sexual or domestic violence can seek safety and support in this country. Even if you are an undocumented immigrant, there are different ways to gain lawful status in the U.S. without the knowledge of the abuser. Some local programs can help you navigate these systems. You may want to contact an attorney who specializes in this work to assist you.
Here are two options that may be available to you:
- VAWA Self-Petitions
If your abuser is a US citizen or legal permanent resident and you are either: 1) the battered spouse; 2) the child/step-child who was battered or witnessed spousal abuse of your parent/ step-parent; or 3) you are a parent who is battered by your adult child, you may be eligible to file an immigrant visa petition (self-petition) under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA). You may be eligible for this form of relief regardless of how you entered the country. Through the VAWA Self-Petition, you may eventually become eligible for employment authorization and a green card without the knowledge or consent of your abuser.
- U-Visas for Victims of Crime
If you are a victim of a crime (including domestic violence and/or sexual assault) and are undocumented, you may be eligible for a U-Visa. The U-Visa is a special class of visas issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The U-Visa is generally available for crime victims who (1) have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from criminal activity; (2) have information regarding the criminal activity; (3) assist government officials in the investigation or prosecution of such criminal activity. U-Visa holders receive employment authorization and a path to a green card.
No matter how old you are, there are state and federal laws designed to protect you if someone has physically or sexually hurt you or threatened or put you in fear and is interfering with your right to access education.
Three pieces of United States federal law, Title IX, the Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act, guarantee students a right to education free from sexual violence and harassment and sex discrimination as well as the right to gender expression free from institutional or personal harassment for students in school, program, or school related activities that receive any federally funds. These laws were established to protect students from abuse, to ensure that their educational experience is not interrupted or compromised should violence occur, and to make clear that the educational institutions have a responsibility in creating an environment where students are safe from violence. These laws and policies are in place regardless of whether a student decides to notify the police and go through the criminal justice system.
SPECIAL NOTE: Under the Trump Administration, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is trying to undermine the effectiveness of Title IX. To date, no changes have been made. We will update this page as this evolves.
Centering the experiences and needs of the most marginalized communities is a cornerstone of JDI’s work. We believe that by adopting policies and practices that are culturally specific and community informed, everyone will be best served. Contact your local sexual and domestic violence program for more information.