Whatever the reason, victims of domestic violence may be unaware that they can get help.
People who work with domestic violence victims say the problem is under-reported in the Hispanic community. Victims of domestic violence are often afraid to report their situations.
“They fear they’re going to be deported – they’re afraid of the police to begin with – and while they live in this country, they live under that fear … and don’t report it,” said Nancy Seal, an advocate of more than 20 years for the CEASE Domestic Violence program in Morristown, Tennessee.
The CEASE program offers aid and shelter to victims of domestic violence. A victim of domestic abuse will not be turned away for seeking help.
“The Violence Against Women Act is now in place,” said Seal. “We’re trying to help a lot of women get a U-Visa. This way they won’t have to be deported because of domestic violence.”
With a U-Visa, a woman may obtain U.S. residency even if she lacks a regular Visa or passport.
The U-Visa is for people who have suffered abuse and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In order to have a U-Visa, petition for the visa. Different states follow different steps to obtaining a U-Visa after petitioning.
An order of protection is a legal document signed by a judge that restrains someone from continuing abusive behavior and allows the person who filed it to call the police when more abuse occurs.
Judge Janice Snyder, right, presided over orders of protection last year in Hamblen County. The 2010 Census shows Latinos made up 19.7 percent of the population in Morristown, where Snyder presides.
Out of fear, Snyder believes, fewer Hispanic women ask for orders of protection.
“I don’t think we got a lot of orders of protection,” Snyder said. “I know a lot of them were very scared.”
Elvia Reyes, a bilingual advocate for CEASE for the past 10 months, offers another side of the story.
Reyes explained that most people who endure domestic violence and do not seek help don’t report the abuse because they don’t view it as abnormal. Sometimes, they were raised in an abusive family and don’t know any differently.
Reyes explained the difficulties that come when a Latina is in a foreign country and cannot speak English. As a Spanish-English translator, she offers help to those who seek it from the CEASE program. She has theories as to why some Latinas flee Mexico.
“One of the ways out of domestic violence is to flee, because if they stay, it could become worse and they could get killed,” Reyes said. “Some women can get out of that so they can have a better life.”
Even after leaving Mexico, some women are not able to escape the domestic violence.
Seal said the help that CEASE offers is not common knowledge to women.
“With all that is going on in their mind, they don’t know what to do,” Reyes said. “Right now we only have one shelter here in Morristown, so if they were full – most of the time their family is in Mexico – so they have nowhere else to go.”
The CEASE shelter in Morristown has 16 beds. CEASE's shelter in Claiborne County has 10.
In one situation, Reyes helped a woman whose family was in Mexico and she had no place to go. The shelter was full, but still managed to make accommodations for her. No one is turned away.
Reyes explained that being able to speak English can be a key to survival. Sometimes the language barrier can prevent women from finding help.
“Sometimes they don’t speak English and sometimes their kids are either too small or can’t help them translate,” Reyes said.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence publishes a list of what to look for in an abusive relationship. The coalition says domestic violence is when one person in a relationship does something against the other person’s will to show power or control, and the actions become a habit.
Reyes explained that more bilingual people working with CEASE would help reduce if not end domestic violence.
“The language barrier is a big issue,” Reyes said. “If [women] don’t feel comfortable talking to a person, or if they don’t think they will understand them, then they don’t even search for help.”
Talking to people in the Spanish community about domestic violence is a way Reyes believes help can be made more accessible. This would educate people to know what to look for, where to get help, and to not be afraid to talk to the police, who are there to help.
“I think if we were to develop a good program and have classes and health fairs, I think it would just be a really good way to get the word out,” Reyes said, adding that the CEASE program distributes informational flyers around town.
Reyes fears women who are too afraid to seek help won’t attend a class about domestic violence.
Information is also available for those who are not victims of domestic violence, but who might be able to spot signs in the relationships of others and seek help for them before a situation advances too far.
“We try to put the word out for people even if they’re not being abused, just so they know that they have friends,” Reyes said. “The friend can tell the other person who can’t get help to flee the domestic violence.”
For more information about domestic violence, visit www.ncadv.org. For help from domestic violence, call 911 or contact the CEASE shelter in Morristown, Tennessee at 423-581-7029.
Above left, CEASE representative Nancy Seal works with women victimized by domestic violence. Seal has represented CEASE for more than 20 years and helps women seek shelter from abuse. She also helps immigrant women obtain U-Visas. Photos: Holly Davis.