This March marks the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We quarantined. We masked up. And now, regulations are really starting to mellow across the U.S. Yet, there are still scars from this real-life nightmare… many of which belong to Latinas in the U.S. due to the domestic violence they faced in isolation.

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And at times, being Latina actually caused more difficulties in seeking or receiving help because of language barriers, immigration status, even strong family values. 

According to The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ), there was an 8.1% increase in intimate partner violence in the U.S. after lockdown measures were implemented. While the data does not describe increases specific to ethnic identification, the information gathered by Latina DV centers across the country during the pandemic proves that culture plays a huge role in DV cases, and must be taken into consideration. 

With DV cases, culture matters.

Patti Tototzintle, President and CEO of Esperanza United, a non-profit aiding Latina DV survivors, told mitú: 

“At the start of the pandemic, we saw more incidences and more severe incidences of domestic violence as the increased stress, isolation, and pressure of the pandemic affected families. As stay-at-home requirements were implemented, it meant that many survivors couldn’t carve out space and distance from their abusive partner as easily as before.”

She added: “Many survivors were also taking care of children now attending school remotely and/or may have lost their jobs to COVID-19. Among our community, the problem was particularly acute as we faced higher rates of infection and had less ability to isolate at home due to making up high percentages of essential workers.”

Then, there are language barriers.

As Latinx families were experiencing higher risks for both abuse and infection, the risks for non-English speakers spiked that much more. 

Kira Bellolio Murillo, J.D., Director of Family Wellness for Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc. out of Philadelphia, found a crucial missing piece in the pandemic emergency outreach:

“During the pandemic, I think one of the areas that kind of took a million steps back was language access. I can only speak to Philadelphia, but when we saw so many emergency resources go out into the community, nobody thought to translate it. When people were seeking help, they were struggling being able to communicate and make reports, or seek assistance, because no one had access to language.”

In Philadelphia, the emergency outreach made only for English speakers actually caused a dip in Spanish-speaking folks seeking help immediately after lockdown started. That, plus lack of internet connection and phone service in the home for certain Latinas. But it didn’t last long, according to Kira. “It was maybe about three months, then we went back to where we normally see folks seeking help.” 

There was also fear associated with immigrantion status.

Darice Orobitg, PhD, Training and Content Consultant for National Hispanic and Latino MHTTC, shared with mitú:

“Perpetrators may use immigration status as a control mechanism. Furthermore, survivors may be unaware of the resources available for undocumented immigrants, adding stress and fear during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a moment when the net of coercive control can be tightened. In fact, ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ are core tactics of a coercively controlling partner.”

And sometimes, the value of familismo can have a negative effect in DV cases. Familismo is defined by Psychology Today as a central Latinx cultural value. It involves dedication, commitment, and loyalty to family.

Orobitg continued to say:

Social distancing measures can increase tension, feelings of isolation among survivors, as well as increased levels of danger. For Latinas who value familismo, this results in a limited support system and exacerbation of mental health symptoms.”

Now, it’s time to reduce the risk of DV for Latinas in the U.S.

According to a recent study published in the Center for Global Development, the ways we can reduce DV cases, especially during a time of crises, include: strengthening violence-related first-response systems, ensuring domestic violence is integrated into healthcare response systems, expanding and reinforcing social safety nets, offering shelter, temporary housing, encouraging temporary social support networks and integrating domestic violence into the pandemic preparedness strategies. 

MHTTC stresses medical services must be available for everyone regardless of immigration status. In addition, healthcare workers should not ask for immigration status information. If survivors are asked about health insurance, a possible response is “I am not eligible for health insurance and do not want to apply.”

MHTTC consultant Orobitg said: “It is important to educate communities in terms of resources and support. Promotoras may be a valuable resource for Latino communities in terms of education and follow-up of Latino families who may be experiencing violence or who are at risk. During the pandemic, many Latinas lost access to care for a number of reasons.” 

And then, we can’t forget just how beautiful the Latinx community is, and to provide hope for healthy love.

Bellolio, Director for Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Inc., expressed: “For DV prevention, one of the things that we really stress is making sure to talk about it in the home. Having these conversations with young people. Having these conversations where we’re talking about Latinos not just in the negative, but in the positive. When I have community education workshops, I always end it with: What does latino love look like in the positive light? What do I want my kids to grow up knowing? There are so many positive aspects to our culture.”

This article has been updated for accuracy.