According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, roughly 20 people per minute are physically abused by domestic partners in the United States. That number equates to more than 10 million men and women per year. Of these 10 million reported people, only 34 percent of injured victims receive medical care for their injuries.
These numbers do not reflect the number of victims who are immigrants forced to stay in life-threatening situations for fear of what legal repercussions they may face when reporting incidents to the authorities.
According to studies by the Tahirih Justice Center regarding the national epidemic of domestic violence in the United States, “Immigrant women and girls are disproportionately impacted.” Of the many factors that make this population especially vulnerable, “reliance on abusers for legal immigration status or limited knowledge of the English language” are the most common.
Studies also show that “immigrant women and girls in the United States may be twice as likely to experience domestic violence than the general population, and they’re less likely to leave their abusers due to fear of immigration consequences, such as being deported and separated from children.”
With new laws that require the medical practitioners exposed to cases of domestic violence to report them, immigrant domestic violence victims are being forced to make a hard choice.
Immigrant and domestic violence survivor, Elena, stated that she “feared deportation more than she desired medical care.”
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Elena shared the story of a time she tried to leave her abusive boyfriend. The severe wounds he inflicted on her were, as she stated, “scars by which to remember him.” Elena did not seek medical care for the open wounds she suffered or for the ringing in her ears.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, “California, Colorado and Kentucky require medical professionals to notify police about injuries caused by physical abuse or sexual assault.” In these states, medical providers who suspect domestic violence is at play must turn over the patient’s name, injuries, location, and suspected abuser to the authorities. Those who do not comply with these requirements face misdemeanor charges if caught.
These laws force many patients and medical practitioners into a corner, ultimately taking the control of the decision making process away from the victim. The law meant to “increase documentation of domestic violence injuries and hold abusers accountable” is essentially entrapping the very individuals it was intended to help.
The American Medical Association states that such laws “violate the basic tenets of medical ethics and are of unproven value.” Unfortunately, with the Trump administration’s unrelenting push to “crack down on illegal immigration,” domestic violence victims will continue to be more concerned with deportation than with seeking legal help.
Jane K. Stoever, director of the domestic violence clinic at UC Irvine Law, has witnessed countless cases where domestic violence victims with immigrant status go untreated for their injuries due to fear of deportation. Stoever also spoke on the “rampant sexual abuse and trafficking” that occurs when these individuals are forced to “sexually submit” in exchange for their spousal citizen status.
As Stoever said, “We must recognize that individuals in abusive relationships may need and want medical care without police involvement.”
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