Navigating Vulnerabilities

Literature Review

Many immigrants and refugees experience domestic violence from either their partners or from other family members, especially in the context of failure to understand their legal rights, language barriers and the general stress associated with adapting to new social and cultural structures (Great Britain, 2008). Whereas all refugees and immigrants have the control and power to exercise their rights, violated immigrants and refugees may lack the capacity to exercise such powers due to several other factors such as poverty (Ayuda 1999). With this regard, literature from other parts of the world have highlighted some of the disparities that expose immigrants and refugees to vulnerabilities of domestic violence and this may include language barriers, limited social and economic resources, social isolation and their immigration status. Hiara & Gill (2010) argues that lack of adequate knowledge of the local language may expose immigrant men and women to vulnerabilities of domestic violence because the native perpetrators rely on the victims’ limited proficiency in the English language to gain control over their behaviour. Heerd (2017) gives an example that perpetrators who have better proficiency in the English language may silence the victims by acting as the only communicators in English. This implies that the victims do not have a chance to speak for themselves and express their experiences of domestic violence to the relevant authorities. Mcilwaine (2011) made similar observations and asserted that the lack of good proficiency in English may hinder the victims from seeking help or rescue services. Evidence on the disparity in social and economic resources as a factor contributing to domestic violence vulnerabilities among refugees and immigrants are very clear. Whereas domestic violence is experienced across all social and economic classes, poor economic status can affect an immigrant’s experience of domestic violence because, in some types of marriages, partners

have uneven economic resources that can make the immigrant partners vulnerable to their economically empowered partner’s control (Yoshihama, 2001). For example, according to Yoshihama (2001), immigrants married to the US military personnel as well as marriages through dating services or international brokers are prone to such vulnerabilities because one partner has a socio-economic advantage over the other. In cases where services are provided to family units within the refugee context, perpetrators may threaten to cut off help or have the victim deported if the let the authorities know about the violence. Research by Yoshihama & Gillespie (2002) also highlighted how social isolation can contribute to the vulnerabilities of domestic violence among refugees and immigrants. According to Yoshihama (2001), social isolation among immigrants can be more severe because they are likely to be isolated within their communities and the dominant European culture. Nonetheless, there are a variety of social factors that may contribute to social isolation, including fear, shame, religious beliefs, and the belief about the dominant role of men in society. Furthermore, many immigrants enter the UK without the knowledge of their rights amid being highly financially dependent and socially isolated (Yoshihama & Gillespie, 2002). The vulnerability to domestic violence may also increase due to an individual’s immigration status. According to Nyangweso & Olupona (2019), the victims have limited options as the perpetrators threaten with deportation if the violation is reported. While there has been a significant effort made to reduce violation against immigrant women in the UK, the efforts remain ineffective if the victims lack adequate knowledge about their options and rights. Even if the refugee or the immigrant legally resides in the UK, abusers can still use the threat of deportation because some of the victims may lack knowledge about the legality of their residence status.


The cultural differences and immigrant characteristics also act as barriers to seek help. According to Meyersfeld (2012) failure culturally adopt social care services to ensure that staffs and volunteers can speak the locals’ language means that the services might not achieve all it can in delivering care. This implies that all staffs and volunteers delivering social services to immigrants and refugees must be able to speak their language so that it becomes easier for them to seek help. Apart from the failure to culturally adapt the social services, lack of culturally competent service providers may hinder help-seeking from immigrant domestic violence victims. According to Meyersfeld (2012), some important service providers such as the police, healthcare providers and the judicial system lack a proper understanding of the immigrants’ culture. As a result, the service providers may not be able to competently work with the community members or be as sympathetic to the immigrants as they could be to the natives. In certain scenarios, the service providers may assume that domestic violence is something that happens in that community and therefore there is nothing that can be done about it. Lack of knowledge about legal rights as well as unfamiliarity with the justice system also inhibits immigrant victims from seeking help. Mcilwaine (2011) observes that it is challenging for the victims to approach strangers and talk to them about their domestic violence experiences. Furthermore, an immigrant victim may find English-speaking legal expert, or social care service providers or others unsympathetic, intimidating or terrifying. Hence, it takes time to convince the victims that they need help especially because some of the victims may have had negative experiences with authorities from their home countries. All in all, the victims may not have an understanding of their legal rights and may be in fear of deportation if they report their husbands or wives. Also, some victims come from patriarch background where men have an absolute say

on literary every aspect of the family, and therefore it may be difficult for them to report or seek the authorities’ intervention. In terms of economic and social isolation, Nyangweso & Olupona (2019) assert that victims from small communities may fear to leave their partners because they might have nowhere to go, or may lose connection to her entire community. Similar observations are made by Mcilwaine (2011), who noted that despite some communities being able to offer assistance to abused victims, the victims may find it unimaginable to leave the community. Therefore, fear of social or economic isolation inhibits victims from seeking any help or taking action that may be of great help to them. Existing literature also highlights the lack of awareness among immigrant communities about domestic violence. When immigrants are not aware of existing domestic violence among them they may not want to ‘air their dirty linen in public’ and may feel that any community member who talks about it is negatively exposing the community (Meyersfeld, 2012). Whereas this does not mean that domestic violence is not condemned among the immigrant communities, the fact that victims do not talk about it means that it may be difficult for social service workers to identify and help victims. A further review of the literature also reveals culture as a causal factor to domestic violence and failure to seek help among immigrants and refugees. Heise & Ellsberg (2001) observed that in some immigrant cultures violence against women is often justified if they fail to follow the societal gender rules or norms. Similar observations were made by Espin (1999), who noted that cultural difference among the immigrant and native values is a significant source of conflict among immigrant/refugee couples particularly because women try to adapt and change their

family roles. Sometimes, the power denied to migrants by racism is often claimed through gender. Therefore, gaining control over the male of female partner becomes the only way of gaining oral superiority especially in racist societies. In perhaps one of the most detailed studies of culture and its role in domestic violence, Pan et al (2006) engaged in a detailed study dubbed ‘The Hamisa Project’, which mainly focused on the Asian community and how their immigrant status influenced domestic violence among them with the context of American society. From the onset, the project’s theme was the interaction between culture and domestic violence and involved participants conveniently selected from different communities. For instance, the researchers selected participants from the Somali, Latino, and Vietnamese communities as well as social workers within those respective communities to hear their opinion about culture and how it contributed to domestic violence; as well as its role in inhibiting help-seeking. While the study by Pan et al (2006) does not focus on the UK society, its findings give significant information about the current study’s topic and may be of great relevance if explored herein. Preliminarily, participants from all the three communities acknowledged the existence of domestic violence among them. Furthermore, participants in the study by Pan et al (2006) revealed a difference in parental skills and child-rearing culture between each of the three communities and the Native American society. Particularly, as opposed to the Native American society, the three communities did not have adequate knowledge on the culturally appropriate alternatives to physical punishment, and this was associated with some domestic violence reported by the participants. Research by Pan et al (2006) also reported that among all the three immigrant communities in the US, linguistic isolation or lack of bilingual social service providers acted as a barrier to help-seeking. For instance, the service provider respondent in the

study mentioned that cultural issues were one of the significant barriers to domestic violence prevention and intervention. The findings by Pan et al (2006) are similar to findings and remarks by several other studies that have looked into the relationship between culture and domestic violence among immigrant/ refugee communities. Scope of the literature reveals six major issues concerning domestic violence among immigrant communities, including the difference in domestic violence definition, defined gender rules, cultural identity, the difference in conflict resolution techniques, spirituality and difference in the definition of cultural harmony (Yoshihama, 2001). Moreover, some of the common factors that may act as barriers to help-seeking include language, beliefs about culture, failure to trust social service workers as well as lack of bicultural staff. Somali Similar to the study by Pan et al (2006), Mcilwaine (2011) found some cultural issues that could lead to domestic violence among immigrants of Somali immigrants. One of the common issues is acculturative stress, whereby conflicts emerge when children and women acculturate. Besides, domestic violence among immigrants of Somali descent has been associated with issues of gender violence, whereby men tend to leave their families whenever conflict arises, as well as the issue of conflict resolution being given an extended family approach. Latino Among the Latino community, Pan et al (2006) fund that gender violence among immigrants of Latino descent to be associated with cultural issues such as gender equality, economic stressors and their immigrant status. For instance, the authors found that Latino men are allowed to practice polygamy and women are supposed to accept this, even if it is against their wish. Similar observations are made by Nyangweso & Olupona (2019), who remarked that polygamy as a

cultural practice among the Latino is a significant cause of domestic violence because men can marry many wives even against the wishes of their first wives. In such situations, conflict arises; exposing the families to the vulnerabilities of domestic violence. Based on the works by a professor of sexualized violence, Liz Kelly, Sula (2017) identified and summarized the six stages of domestic violence that immigrant women face in the UK, and how culture plays a role in each stage. First, the author claims that in most cases, women try to hide the incidences with the hope that the perpetrators will change. In the second stage, according to Sula (2017), the violence becomes persistent and the women begin to blame themselves, assuming that the violence is just part of marriage problems and not abuse. The third stage involves the realization that the violence is actually abuse, and that women from immigrant communities arrive late at this stage based on their different perception of men and their cultural beliefs on gender roles. In the current study, it would be interesting to understand how these issues relate and play out to contribute to immigrants’ vulnerabilities too domestic violence within the UK context.

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References :

  • AYUDA M. (1999) Somewhere to Turn: Making Domestic Violence Services Accessible to Battered Immigrant Women A “How To” Manual for Battered Women’s Advocates and Service Providers. Chapter 1, “Overview of Domestic Violence and Battered Immigrant Issues”, pp. 4–8, available at
  • BRUNO A (2006). Refugee Admissions and Resettlement Policy, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, pp. 4–5, available at bid=180&mid=605&language=en-US. The INA definition of a refugee excludes any person who participated in the persecution of another.
  • ESPIN, M. (1999) Women Crossing Boundaries: A Psychology of Immigration and Transformations of Sexuality. New York. Routledge.
  • GREAT BRITAIN. (2008). Domestic violence, forced marriage and "honour"-based violence: sixth report of session 2007-08. London, TSO.

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