Immigrant Victims Of Sexual Assault

Sexual violence is a national health problem. Understandably, many victims choose not to report their sexual assault because of fear of retaliation, victim blaming, or simply not being believed. First, please know that we believe you and are so sorry it has happened to you.

As the number of immigrants throughout the nation continues to grow, so too do cases of sexual assault against them, many of whom are undocumented women and, unfortunately, children. 

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that over half of women and nearly one in three men will have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Meanwhile, one in four women has experienced being raped, while one in 26 men has experienced complete or attempted rape. 

Unfortunately, these statistics do not always reflect the experience of undocumented immigrants, largely because cases of sexual abuse in these communities often go unreported.

Although undocumented immigrants do not have the same liberties documented immigrants have, that does not mean that you have to suffer if you are an undocumented immigrant. If you have unfortunately been the victim of sexual assault, whether at the hands of another undocumented immigrant or a documented individual, you have rights and protections in America. Please know you are not alone. Seeking legal representation from an experienced immigrant sexual assault lawyer can help you navigate these options to get the justice you deserve.

Types Of Immigrant Sexual Assault

As with all other assaults throughout America against documented individuals, sexual assault against undocumented immigrants disproportionately impacts women. Women are often afraid to report the assault because of fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, victim blaming, or the very real fear of being deported back to their home country.

Still, this does not minimize the abuse you have endured, and it’s important to speak up if you have been victimized by an abuser. You do not have to go through this painful journey alone. Common types of immigrant sexual assault can include but are not limited to the following:

  • Rape and other types of physical sexual violence
  • Trafficking for the purpose of sex, prostitution, or other sexually motivated reasons
  • Abusive sexual contact at the hands of a loved one
  • Abusive sexual behavior by an employer who leverages your documentation status against you
  • Forced sexual abuse in exchange for favors that pertain to your documentation status
  • Forced sexual abuse or violence that occurs as a result of threats, guilt-tripping, or other intimidating behaviors

Challenges Faced By Immigrant Victims

Immigrant victims, both those who are documented and those who are not, face unique challenges regarding sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and any other sexual misconduct.

These challenges often make it very difficult for you to report the abuse even if you want to. Common challenges that you may face include but are not limited to the following:

  • Language barrier – Even if a victim wants to speak up and report the abuse, they may not be able to do so because of a language barrier. It might also be very difficult for them to secure a translator or to seek out services that can help them report the abuse.
  • Misunderstanding of their legal rights – Frequently, victims who are immigrants or are undocumented do not understand their legal rights following a sexual assault or another form of sexual abuse. Victims may convince themselves that because of their immigration status, they are not entitled to the same protections as others. For this reason, it’s essential to seek legal representation or, at the very least, a legal consultation on your case. This will allow you to understand how the law can protect you and how you can still hold your abuser accountable. 
  • Fear of retaliation –  Undocumented victims may often fear retaliation from either a partner/spouse or an employer that is abusing them. This retaliation often takes on the form of false threats of getting deported or being separated from loved ones like children. Victims may also be convinced that if they do speak up, they will not be believed and that they will only make their situation worse.
  • Fear of deportation –  For many undocumented immigrant victims, the very real fear of deportation keeps them from reporting the abuse, let alone telling a close friend or loved one that they have been abused.
  • Loss of sponsorship – Immigrants who are sponsored either by a friend, family member, or employee may be fearful that they’ll lose this sponsorship if they report the abuse. Additionally, a sponsor can threaten a victim with loss of the sponsorship if they report the abuse. In response to this type of retaliation, Congress has passed very specific laws to protect victims. For example, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), immigrants who are abused by a spouse can self-petition for legal permanent residency without needing to continue relying on their sponsor. 

Legal Rights Of Immigrant Victims Of Sexual Assault

Immigrant victims of sexual assault, both documented and undocumented, have the same legal rights to protection against sexual assault and violence as any other American would. As such, you have the same access to domestic violence services nationwide, including services from national organizations and local sexual assault or domestic violence shelters.

Despite this, and depending on your unique circumstances, you may still understandably fear getting detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It’s important to keep in mind that cases in which an undocumented immigrant was picked up by an ICE officer are very rare. In fact, state laws have been developed to extend undocumented immigrants certain protections if they do appear in a court proceeding.

Included in these protections is prohibiting court personnel from disclosing an individual’s immigration status. In some cases, victims who do report sexual abuse may even find that navigating the court and seeking out a protection order may actually help them in the process of gaining legal status through a U visa.

U Visas were explicitly designed as a way to help encourage victims of crime, including sexual assault, to report crimes so that law enforcement can investigate and hold those parties accountable. While the U Visa does not cover all crimes, it is extended to individuals who suffer from domestic violence, sexual assault, and felony assault.

Because of avenues like a U Visa, working with an experienced immigration sexual assault lawyer can help you navigate the complicated journey of avoiding deportation while being able to hold your abuser accountable.

Steps To Take As An Immigrant Of Sexual Assault

As an immigrant victim of sexual assault, there is power in knowledge. Knowing what to do after a sexual assault has taken place can help you on the path to healing, all while allowing you to hold your abuser accountable. If you are an immigrant and have unfortunately been a victim of sexual assault, follow these steps:

  • Seek medical attention – Although it might be scary, it is vital to seek medical attention to ensure that you are okay following an assault. During the course of your medical treatment, you may be asked to undergo a rape kit. A rape kit helps authorities collect your perpetrator’s DNA which can ultimately hold them accountable for their actions. 
  • Report the abuse – While this might be the most difficult step to take, it is also arguably the most important. Reporting the abuse is the only way to ensure you can hold your abuser accountable. Because of your unique situation, it’s understandable if you do not feel comfortable reporting the abuse to your local law enforcement. In that case, you can seek out a trusted friend or family member. You can even seek out legal representation, as an experienced immigrant sexual assault attorney can help you report the abuse without fear of retaliation.

Immigration Relief For Immigrants Who Are Victims Of Sexual Assault

There is specific relief designed for immigrants who sadly suffer sexual abuse but who may be too afraid to report it. Types of immigration relief victims can tap into can include but are not limited to the following:

  • U Visas – This nonimmigrant visa is designed to help undocumented immigrants who are victims of sexual assault and other crimes.
  • T Visas – T nonimmigrant status is a temporary immigration visa that is available to victims of a severe form of human trafficking. This visa can also be extended to specific members of a victim’s family who have been trafficked for the purpose of prostitution, sex, or other reasons. 
  • Asylum – Victims may also be granted asylum after reporting their sexual abuse. Asylum is a protection that keeps victims from being deported back to their home country. 

Support Services For Undocumented Immigrants Of Sexual Assault

Regardless of your legal status, there are services and support groups you can tap into if you were the victim of a sexual assault. One of the biggest resources is the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN). This is the nation’s largest advocacy organization for victims of sexual abuse and can help you on your path to healing. Contacting the national hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) allows you to connect with trained staff who can help get you the support you need regardless of your immigration status. Other avenues of support you can tap into include the following:

As A Victim Of Immigrant Sexual Assault, You Have Rights

a lawyer is working on their laptop in the background, focus is on a gavel

You have rights and protections, whether you are a documented immigrant or an undocumented one. You do not have to go through this alone; we are here to help. Seeking legal guidance can be one of the most effective ways to hold your abuser accountable and obtain the justice and restitution you deserve.

The sexual assault lawyers at Bachus & Schanker are committed to helping victims of sexual assault, no matter their age, immigration status, or ethnicity. We understand the unique challenges that immigration sexual abuse victims face. To help break down these challenges, we offer bilingual services (English and Spanish) and support through our Victims’ Advocates which can help guide you toward additional resources.

Sources:

Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. (2023).

Preventing Sexual Assault. (2023).

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. (2023).

T Visas. (2023).

U Visas. (2023).

Violence Against Women Act. (2023).

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