Barriers for Limited English Proficiency Survivors

By Samantha Macedo, PADV’s Vice President of Prevention & Outreach (Bilingual)

All survivors of Intimate Partner Violence experience many barriers, but unfortunately for immigrant survivors and those with Limited English Proficiency (LED) there are additional barriers unique to their experience.

Many immigrants come to the United States for a better life and opportunities for their families. However, one of the many barriers that exist is not being able to speak English proficiently. Many are often educated professionals, but are often treated unfairly, due to their ignored and frequently dismissed accents.

“Carmen” is a prime example of this issue. She relies on her young children to be her interpreters because she doesn’t speak English and can never be sure if they are interpreting what she is saying exactly. Carmen also feels frustration and shame when she has to rely on her children to relay the details of abusive incidents to the authorities. When a neighbor called 911 to help as her husband was beating her, the police came, but did not speak to her because of the language barrier. They spoke with her husband and asked him to leave the home. He was back after a couple of hours and threatened her with deportation the next time the police were called. As a result, she is now afraid to reach out to the police.

This illustrates how abusers further isolate their partner by not allowing them to either learn English or speak to friends, family and community resources in the survivor’s native language.

Survivors with LED also lack knowledge of the resources available to them or are often misinformed by their abusers about their rights. All victims of crime have a right to protection under U.S. civil and criminal laws, but an abuser may lie and discourage the victim from reaching out to the police by saying they will lose custody of their children and/or get deported. Additionally, their abuser may lie or withhold important information about their immigration status and paperwork.

PADV has bilingual advocates working at our shelters and in the community to help educate survivors about their options and their rights. We advocate on their behalf to legal and social systems, and empower them to live violence-free lives. No one deserves to be abused, no matter your ability to speak English.