Sexual Violence Is A Major Problem For Latinas — And The Government Estimates It Won’t Be Going Away Soon
Sexual violence, which includes crimes like rape, child sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, stalking, and sexual harassment, is an epidemic in the United States — and Latinas are not immune.
Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of women and girls experience gender-based violence. Of them, Latinas are among the least like to report these crimes and/or receive the help and care they need to recover from this trauma. For undocumented women, a valid fear of deportation keeps them from making life-saving calls to authorities or seeking refuge at women’s shelters. For Latinas who are dominant in Spanish, Portuguese or indigenous languages, the lack of bilingual or bicultural direct service staff, volunteers or translators at crisis centers as well as materials on US laws, rights and resources limits the help many can receive. But even second-generation Latinas, who are acculturated and speak fluent English, are less likely to attain help, oftentimes because of the cultural stigma that comes with airing dirty laundry or losing one’s virginity, even if they did not give their consent.
But just because Latinas aren’t reporting sexual violence at rates significantly higher than other racial and ethnic groups, for many of the aforementioned reasons, doesn’t mean our community is less vulnerable to these forms of violence. In fact, immigration status, cultural stigma, and financial dependence make many of us more susceptible.
On National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, here are some of the harrowing ways Latinas in the US are impacted by sexual violence.
One in six Latinas experience sexual victimization in their lifetime.
This number comes from “The Sexual Assault Among Latinas Survey,” a study conducted by Carlos A. Cuevas, Ph.D. and Chiara Sabina, Ph.D. in 2010. The researchers also found that almost 90 percent of Latina survivors of sexual violence have experienced more than one form of violence, including physical violence, threats, stalking or witnessing violence.
Most Latina survivors know their perpetrators.
Despite the myth of the stranger lingering in a bush or dark alley, most sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and this remains true for Latina survivors as well.
Latinas aren’t likely to seek help after an assault.
In fact, only 20 percent of Latina survivors seek formal support, such as medical, legal or counseling assistance.
Married Latinas are less likely to view marital rape as rape than other racial and ethnic groups.
The #MeToo Movement has arrived in Mexico.
Last week, a young activist tweeted that an esteemed writer had beaten or raped more than 10 women, with her post inspiring hundreds of others to speak out about violence and harassment in their industries.
Ana G. González, a 29-year-old political communications consultant, tweeted on March 21 that Herson Barona had “beaten, manipulated, gaslighted, impregnated, and abandoned (on more than one occasion) more than 10 women.” While she didn’t experience the violence firsthand, she said that women had asked her to speak out on their behalf.
“I knew several women that were just too afraid and not ready to come forth, but allowed me to speak for them and name this person,” González told the New York Times.
Barona denied the accusations, saying “I understand that there is collective pain surrounding the real cases of so many beaten, raped and murdered women” and “unfortunately, in public scorn there is little space for discussion, clarity or conciliation.”
His response didn’t slow down the derision he, and others who have been recently been accused of gender violence and harassment, received on the social network, however.
Since González’s tweet, more allegations have followed under the hashtag #MeTooEscritores, where women are sharing their stories of abuse in film, academia, the nonprofit sector, business, law, theater, medicine, politics and more.
Some women, fearing a backlash from their jobs or their perpetrator, are speaking anonymously or not sharing their attacker’s name. But others, who shared details in their accounts, have caught the attention of the attorney general’s office in the state of Michoacán, which is investigating information published on social media by a network of journalists that “includes acts that Mexican laws consider as crimes.”
Last year, during the height of the #MeToo movement in the US, Mexican actress Karla Souza, famous for her role as Laurel Castillo on the US legal drama television series How to Get Away With Murder, disclosed that she was raped by a director while working in Mexico. She chose to not share the name of her aggressor, which incited skepticism and criticism from many, sending a message to those who might have wanted to open up about their experience with workplace violence or harassment that they, too, could risk similar reprisal.
“When you see how these women have been treated publicly, it makes perfect sense many victims want to protect themselves by staying anonymous,” González said. “Let’s just hope this time it will be different.”
According to one study, many see sex as a marital obligation and are thus less likely to terminate relationships where they are being raped.
Talking about relationships, 1 in 3 Latinas have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime.
Domestic violence includes, but is not exclusive to, physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse, control, isolation, intimidation, reproductive coercion and economic abuse.
For some, violence occurs even during pregnancy.
In one study, 10 percent of pregnant Latinas reported physical intimate partner violence during pregnancy. Another 19 percent reported emotional violence by their partners.
Most women and girl migrants who cross the US-Mexico border will experience violence on their journey.
Rapes, for instance, are so common that many women and girls take birth control pills or get shots before setting out to ensure that they won’t get pregnant.
Sexual harassment is impacting Latina girls’ education.
According to the American Association of University Women, Latina girls reported that they were likely to stop attending school activities and sports to avoid sexual harassment.
As they grow up, sexual harassment follows most Latinas to the workplace.
In a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2009, 77 percent of the Latinas surveyed said that sexual harassment was a major problem in the workplace. This is particularly true for immigrant Latina domestic workers and farmworkers. The latter is 10 times more vulnerable than others to sexual assault and harassment at work.
If a Latina has experienced sexual violence in her lifetime, it is more likely that she will encounter it again.
In fact, 63 percent of victimized Latinas experience multiple acts of victimization.
The problem isn’t going away.
The Office for Victims of Crime estimates that by 2050, the number of Latinas who have experienced some form of sexual violence could reach 10.8 million.
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