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Three Things to Know: Domestic Violence Against Immigrants During the Pandemic

1. The COVID-19 pandemic led to greater isolation, which was particularly dangerous for victims of domestic violence.

While this may seem obvious that the pandemic led to greater isolation, it is incredibly important to note how this isolation greatly impacted victims of domestic violence. One of the most infamous tactics of abuse is isolation. In keeping a victim from connecting with others and much of the outside world, abusers can create a greater sense of loneliness and dependence on the abuser. But at the beginning of the pandemic, the country relied on social isolation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and victims were often trapped within their own homes with their abusers.

While we have been fortunate to increase our use of technology during the pandemic, unfortunately, not everyone was afforded this luxury. With everything online, abusers were then able to maintain greater control over a victim’s life through control of phone, internet, and computer access. Victims were not only isolated from the physical outside world, but also to virtual networks of support.

This isolation was further exacerbated when international borders were closed. These travel restrictions were meant to keep COVID-19 out, but they also kept people in. These restrictions then made it more difficult for immigrants to visit families or access networks of support systems.

2. The pandemic caused people to lose their jobs which both isolated individuals and created additional financial stressors: both of which are risk factors for domestic violence.

At the height of the pandemic, immigrants across the board were at risk of losing their jobs. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “foreign-born populations are disproportionately represented in the essential sectors most affected by pandemic-induced layoffs, including restaurants, cleaning services, and child and elder care.” According to the April 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, immigrants make up 22% of the hospitality industry, 20% of the food service sector, and 33% of the hotel and accommodation industry, all of which suffered significant job losses as a result of the pandemic. The job losses of these three sectors combined totals around 12.6 million, placing a significant financial strain on immigrants.

The financial hardships of COVID-19, constant fear of job loss, and additional concerns about catching COVID-19 and not being able to work created an environment in which conflict was amplified within families. In a study by Health Care Women International, many immigrant survivors describe how husbands would lose their jobs and would take out their frustrations on their wives. As many individuals were laid off, abusers were now spending more time at home, increasing the risk of violence.

If victims lose their jobs or cannot find other forms of work, this can lead to victims becoming even more dependent on abusive partners for shelter, food, and other finances.

3. Immigrant victims faced additional challenges in accessing support networks throughout the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, immigrant victims are often faced with a multitude of obstacles in accessing support networks. Cultural and language barriers are often major factors in accessing care. But with additional constraints from the pandemic, these challenges were worsened. At the height of the pandemic, in person offices everywhere were closed, and many immigrants could not access safe care.

Abusers often keep victims in violent situations through threats to their life and security. For immigrants, these threats can often include threats to call ICE, threats of deportation, threats to destroy or damage immigration papers, and even threats to withdraw petitions for citizenship. This, in combination with economic factors, creates a greater sense of dependence on an abuser to stay in the United States.

Certain protections such as the Violence Against Women Act have been put in place for immigrants to seek protection and attempt to apply for citizenship without sponsorship from their abusive partner. However, due to border closings and halts in immigration proceedings, the severe backlog of cases during the pandemic have made it difficult for immigrants to receive necessary paperwork to get access to services that can help them leave their partners.

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