Richland hosted a domestic violence town hall on Oct. 10 focusing on immigrants’ rights and getting help for themselves or loved ones in unhealthy and unsafe situations.
“Immigrants have the right to feel safe and get help, too,” said Gil Zafra with the law firm Brewer and Lormand, PLLC.
Zafra, along with Zainab Munawwar president and founder of the Human Rights Coalition at Richland and Karen Cuttill, a licensed professional counselor, want people to know that there is help available to them no matter their citizenship status.
According to futureswithoutviolence.org, immigrant women often suffer higher rates of battering than U.S. citizens because they may come from cultures that accept domestic violence or because they have less access to legal and social services. Additionally, immigrant batterers and victims may believe the penalties and protections of the U.S. legal system do not apply to them.
Zafra emphasized the trapped situations immigrant victims are likely to have gone through. “Sometimes the spouses hold their papers, their ID’s and birth certificates and they think they can’t get help.”
The town hall focused on educating people about domestic violence, how to recognize it in social settings and what they can do to help.
“Most people don’t want to tell people they have been treated this way by someone they love so often they cover,” said Cuttill.
“A lot of people think domestic violence is only in an intimate relationship. It can be between siblings, spouses and friends,” said Munawwar.
The message stressed in the town hall was the importance of saying something. The panelists took turns explaining that it is common for friends and relatives to not intervene during instances of domestic violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, thousands of domestic violence incidents go unreported each year because of silence by both the victims and witnesses of the abuse.
“We need to take the courage to report these incidents,” Zafra said.
The panelists acknowledged that reporting these incidents was not always easy for the victims or the witnesses. Many victims are afraid of leaving or being hurt or even breaking up families so they stay quiet and suffer the assaults.
“It takes the average domestic violence victim seven attempts before they leave their abusers. So, the idea that that someone wakes up and says, ‘I’m out of this, it’s bad!,’ it happens that way but more than likely it is going to take multiple attempts and a lot of preparation and a lot of help,” said Cuttill.
“The law is not a general model. It depends on who is applying the law. Each case is different when you are presenting it to the court,” Zafar said. “They [immigrants] are still people who have the right to be safe and get help if they are not.”