RCASA Friday Facts: Hispanics/Latinos Sexual Violence Awareness

In Friday Facts, Hispanic/Latino, Sexual Assault Awareness on September 24, 2010 at 8:00 am

October 15-November 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month

Today’s blog is taken from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance Sexual Violence Awareness Fact Sheet entitled: “Hispanics/Latinos.”

In this fact sheet, we use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino,” which refer specifically to people from Latin America. Hispanics/Latinos do not identify as a single racial group, but rather as a mixture of various cultures from over 22 countries in North, South, Central America, and the Caribbean. Many Hispanics/Latinos identify themselves by their country of origin (such as Puerto Rican, Mexican, Colombian). Self-identity is very important and very personal, so it is important to ask a Hispanic/Latino how s/he identifies herself or himself and not make assumptions.

In addition to many other underserved communities, Hispanics/Latinos also face significant issues related to sexual assault.  Hispanics/Latinos are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S., soaring from 22 million to 35.5 million in the last 10 yrs (an increase of more than 80%). According to the 2000 Census, 4.7% of people living in Virginia are Hispanic/Latino (Overview of Race and Latino Origin, Census 2000).  The following statistics point to some crucial truths in the Hispanic/Latino community:

  • Married Latinas are less likely than other women to immediately define their experiences of forced sex as rape and terminate their relationships; some view sex as a marital obligation (Bergen, R.K. 1996, Wife Rape);
  • The National Violence Against Women Survey found that Latinas were less likely to report rape victimization than non-Latinas;
  • Eighteen percent of Latina’s and nearly 23 percent of Latino’s reported experiencing a sexual assault in their lifetimes (Prevalence of Sexual Assault in Virginia, Virginia Dept. of Health, April 2003);
  • Six percent of victims served by Virginia’s Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies in 2003 were Hispanic/Latino (VAdata: A report from Virginia Sexual Assault Crisis Centers and Domestic Violence Programs, 2003)
  • Additional health concerns are more prevalent in the Hispanic/Latino  community that are resultant of sexual assault, the sex industry, and sexual exploitation:  such as higher rates of HIV and STD’s (National Council of La Raza, 2010), surviving multiple rapes, higher rates of being forced into sex work/trafficking (Dynamics of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking from Latin America into the United States, 2003). 

These statistics clearly show that Hispanics/Latinos are in need of sexual assault services, yet due to a variety of factors, it is often difficult for them to get the services they need. It is critical that sexual violence victim advocates understand the needs and barriers of Hispanics/Latinos in order to provide culturally appropriate and sensitive outreach and services to this community. Disscussed below are some of the barriers present:

Language Barriers:

The United States is a country where English is the primary language that is spoken. Language is key to establishing safety and trust. It is always helpful to have an interpreter available to assist with victims. It is extremely important to avoid using family members or children to translate for the survivor as doing so may inhibit the survivor’s ability to speak openly and can put children in the inappropriate and potentially dangerous position of explaining the sexual violation of a parent.

Fear of Deportation:

Also, many Hispanic/Latino immigrants suffer sexual violence, exploitation, and ongoing harassment by perpetrators who take advantage of their fear of deportation and lack of knowledge about their rights.  Perpetrators often use threats of deportation to keep the victim fearful and silent. Immigrants migrating to the US through established migratory routes and underground transportation systems are more likely to be forced to use sex as payment for transportation, be victims of sex trafficking and forced into sexual slavery.  As advocates it is important to have access to accurate immigration information while providing emotional support and validation to victims of sexual violence.

Cultural Issues:

Additionally, members of the Hispanic/Latino community face specific cultural issues. Emphasis is placed on virginity in many Hispanic/Latino communities. In many Hispanic/Latino cultures, a woman who loses her virginity to rape, incest, or molestation is seen as a “promiscuous” woman.  It is important to remember that these issues may arise with the survivor as well as with her family. It is important to be respectful of cultural beliefs while reminding the victim and her family that the blame for sexual assault lies with the perpetrator, not the victim.

Fear of the Legal System:

Fear of the legal system is yet another issue faced by Hispanics/Latinos. They may mistrust and fear the police and judicial authorities because in many Latin American countries these entities may be corrupt and oppressive.

For Hispanic/Latino victims of sexual assault and rape the journey back to wholeness can be even more difficult than for others. The culture and society they live in often forces the rape and sexual assault victims to remain silent. There may also be legal issues surrounding immigration issues that are sometimes perceived to be an obstacle in getting help.

Myths about Hispanics/Latinos can also make it more difficult for them to access and receive appropriate services if they have experienced sexual violence. They may fear being stereotyped based on these myths, or they may have internalized the myths and believe these things are true of them, therefore believing that they don’t need or deserve services. It is important to understand these myths and the realities in order to assist people in receiving the help they need.

Myth: All Hispanics/Latinos are undocumented or are in the U.S. illegally.

Fact: Many Latinos/Hispanics are U.S. citizens whose families have been here for generations. Others have immigrated here legally. Regardless of their legal status, survivors of sexual violence deserve support.

Myth: All Hispanics/Latinos speak the same language, so any Spanish translator can provide interpretation services.

Fact: It is not appropriate to assume that all Hispanics/Latinos speak Spanish, or the same kind of Spanish. In fact, many rural and indigenous people from Central and South America speak Mayan dialects, and Brazilians speak Portuguese. Many speak English to varying degrees.

Myth: All Hispanic/Latino immigrants have come to the U.S. willingly.

Fact: Although many immigrants are in the United States willingly, some are victims of trafficking. Often sexual violence plays a large role in the trafficking of women and children. It is important not to assume that an Hispanic woman/Latina is here with her family.


Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance   www.vsdvalliance.org

Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault   www.rcasa.org

Alianza Latina en Contra la Agresion Sexual/ALAS   For info email: artsanando@yahoo.com


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