Refugee and Immigrant Abuse

Refugee and Immigrant Abuse

What is Abuse in Refugee and Immigrant Communities?

Domestic violence and abuse takes the same forms as it does for native populations, but for those who are unfamiliar with American customs, laws and institutions, Entering the U.S. as an immigrant, asylum seeker or refugee can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. Unfortunately, this process can leave many New Americans, especially women, vulnerable to abusive partners and family members. The risk associated with immigrant, asylum seeker and refugee populations is twofold: the complexity of an unfamiliar legal system and the potential conflict between cultural background and new surroundings can make refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants suffering from abuse feel they cannot leave an abusive relationship or disclose their abuse to law enforcement.


Abuse of Legal Systems

Abusers may use the legal system against victims in the following ways:

  • Threatening to get the person deported
  • Hiding or destroying legal documents (passports, identification cards, etc.)
  • Refusing to file the necessary paperwork for naturalization, child custody, divorce, or other legal proceedings


Cultural Backgrounds

A person's culture can be a source of comfort during a challenging transition, but in an abusive relationship, it can be used to further manipulate the victim. An abuser may:

  • Prevent the victim from learning English (or forbid them from speaking their native language)
  • Accuse them of abandoning their community
  • Use racist slurs
  • Deny access to education and work


Power & Control Wheel Developed by Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs of Duluth, Minnesota.

Accessing Resources

New Americans often create small communities within a larger town or city. As a result, some victims fear that if they come forward, the entire community will know about the abuse. Gossip and rejection can isolate the victim further. Also, some service providers may be biased against immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, while others simply do not have the knowledge or resources to help these victims. Prejudice, language barriers, and confusing social service procedures can discourage immigrant, asylum seeker or refugee victims from seeking support.

Safe Voices seeks to be inclusive of all people, regardless of background or immigration status. We also frequently partner with local organizations who serve New Americans. If you or someone you know is a New American in need of support, contact our 24-hour helpline (1-800-559-2927) or contact the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine 207-753-0061.