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Domestic violence help for immigrants

Domestic violence is a serious issue. It can be particularly hard for immigrants who face unique challenges. Understand what domestic violence is. Learn what your rights are and how to find help.

Updated October 30, 2023

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What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is when someone in your family or household tries to control or harm you. It is also called intimate partner violence or domestic abuse. 

It can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. While most reported cases involve women, men can be victims too. Domestic violence often refers to abuse between intimate partners but can include:

  • A spouse or partner
  • A former partner
  • Someone you have a child with
  • A family member, such as a parent, child, or sibling
  • A roommate or someone you live with 

Types of abuse

Common signs of domestic violence include:

  • Harm to your body such as hitting, kicking, pushing, or throwing objects. This is called physical abuse.
  • Unwanted touching such as unwanted kisses or sexual acts or pressuring you to have sex. This can even be considered abuse in a marriage.
  • Mean and hurtful words such as threats, name-calling, yelling, or embarrassing you in front of others. This is called emotional abuse.
  • Controlling your money such as taking it from you, refusing to provide you money for basic needs, or limiting access to accounts.  
  • Making decisions for you, forcing you to do things you do not want to do and other ways of controlling you. 
  • Checking your phone and internet messages or watching things you do closely, and wanting to know how you spend your time.
  • Keeping you from friends, family, and community by not letting you see or talk to them or isolating you from your cultural or religious community.
  • Showing up uninvited, following you, or sending lots of messages or calls that make you feel afraid. This could be considered stalking.
  • Insulting or threatening your loved ones or destroying your belongings and things you care about.
  • Using weapons to scare you such as threats with a knife, gun, or bat.
  • Not allowing you to work or go to school.
  • Extreme jealousy of you and your friends, or accusing you of cheating.

Domestic violence includes a variety of behaviors and does not always have to be physical. These signs might not show up until farther into a relationship or come in cycles.

Many survivors of domestic violence blame themselves for abuse. Remember, domestic violence is never your fault. 

Immigrants and abuse

Immigrants experiencing abuse can face unique challenges because of their immigration status. You may feel isolated from your community and have limited access to support. You may not know about domestic violence laws and rights in the United States.

Your abuser may use your immigration status to control you or stop you from getting help. Your abuser may use your fear of deportation to stop you from reporting abuse. 

Common examples can be that your abuser:

  • Keeps your immigration documents from you
  • Prevents you from getting identification documents
  • Destroys legal documents like driver’s license and passports
  • Stops you from filing an immigration application
  • Refuses to file immigration petitions on your behalf
  • Threatens you or your loved ones with deportation
  • Keeps you from learning English  

Seeking immigration help

In the United States, there is help for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. You might be able to:

  • Get special immigration status through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) if your abuser is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Apply for a U visa that lets immigrant victims stay in the USA, work legally, and receive public benefits.
It is important to get legal advice as you consider your options. A lawyer or accredited representative can help you find out if you qualify and complete your application. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal help.

Know your rights

It is important to know your rights and the laws in the USA. You have the right to safety and support regardless of your immigration status.

Anyone who experiences domestic abuse has the right to:

  • Help from law enforcement
  • Criminal prosecution of the abuser 
  • Emergency shelter 
  • Emergency medical care
  • Short-term housing
  • Crisis counseling 
  • Community services
  • Protective orders
  • Child custody and support
  • Legal separation or divorce without the consent of your spouse 

For immigrants, it is important to also know:

Get help

There are many services that want to help you. You may also find help that is specifically for people from your home country or who speak your language.

You can take these first steps: 

  • Make a safety plan to prepare for a crisis. This includes before and after leaving an abusive situation. 
  • Document your abuse. Take photos of your injuries and screenshots of threatening messages.
  • Talk to people you trust. This can be a friend, family, teacher, school counselor, neighbor, or community leader.
  • Call or text a helpline for free and anonymous help. Helplines are staffed by trained professionals who can provide guidance and support. 
  • Reach out to a community organization for help. They can offer various forms of assistance, including counseling, shelter, and access to legal resources. 
  • Talk to an immigration attorney. Get advice about your rights and options for legal protection.
  • Find help for your mental well-being. Abuse can affect your happiness and health. Learn how to find mental health services.
If you worry someone is watching your internet use, clear your browsing history and use private mode. You can also use a friend’s device or a library computer for extra safety.

Reporting domestic violence

Domestic violence is against the law. You can tell the police about abuse at any time. 

Here is what you can do:

  • Go to a police station or a hospital if you need medical help. You can make a police report there.
  • If there’s an emergency, talk to the police officer who comes to help. Stay calm and tell the truth.
  • Let the police know if your partner has a gun, other weapons, a warrant, or a restraining order against them.
  • If the police visit your home, you can ask to talk to them. You don’t have to sign papers you can not read or understand.
  • Check if a local crisis center or shelter can help you make a report.
  • Read more tips for reporting to the police.

You can also consider filing for a protective order that stops your abuser from physically coming near you or abusing you and others. You will have to testify at a hearing. A protective order can last a few years and it may be extended. 

Each state has specific laws related to domestic violence. Learn about restraining orders, divorce, custody, and child support in your state. 

Hotlines and other help

Hotlines and organizations provide free and private support to domestic violence survivors. They can help you with a safety plan, find a safe place to go, and offer mental health support and legal advice.

They will ask for information about your situation to help you figure out what options are available. You do not have to share any details that you do not want to. They will not share your information or report your abuse without your permission. 

Organization
Offers
National Domestic Violence Hotline
800-799-7233
TTY 800-787-3224
Text START to 88788
24-hour hotline available in 200+ languages. They also list local services
 
24-hour hotline for sexual assault. Also in Spanish.
Hotline for victims of crime.
Love is Respect
866-331-9474
TTY 800-787-3224
24-hour hotline for teens and young adults. Also in Spanish.
Womankind
888-888-7702
24-hour hotline. Also in Spanish and 18 Asian languages.
24-hour hotline to get guidance for child abuse. This is not a reporting line.
Legal information and email hotline.
Legal help for immigrant survivors.
Search for shelters and domestic violence programs near you.
Search list of organizations that help survivors of sexual assault.
Find a center near you.
Search list of organizations that help the Muslim community.
Resources on elder abuse.
Afghan Asylum Helpline
888-991-0852
A general helpline that can offer help in Dari and Pashto.

The information on this page comes from National Domestic Violence Hotline, USCIS, Esperanza United, and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.

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