Domestic Violence: Hispanic Women Stuck in the Shadows

Featured Artwork: Egle Plytnikaite

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There was a Spanish song I heard only a handful of times growing up, playing in the car as my mami drove my cousins and I to the mall every Friday. I remember mindlessly and innocently trying to mumble along to the then-unknown lyrics; all I knew was that the beat was sick. 

Despite growing older and losing the memory of the song among all the other sing-along failures of life, the slow beat of bachata’s drums and the piano are burned into my heart instinctively. Therefore, when Spotify thought it’d be a good idea to place it in my shuffle, I almost felt dizzy.

My understanding now is very different from my understanding as a five-year-old, and as I heard “Hermanita” by Aventura blast through the speaker, I stood shocked by my bedside at how I could miss such a message. An anti-domestic violence anthem? And a Spanish one at that. Who would’ve thought?

Often times in Hispanic culture, domestic abuse is not a problem. It is simply a part of life.

On an average Wednesday, over 20,000 calls are placed on domestic violence hotlines nationwide in the United States. Yet, there is still an increasing number of women who are caught in this circle of violence who aren’t calling, who aren’t reporting, and Hispanic women are making up a great part of this silence. One in three Hispanic women experience domestic violence in their life. If you ask a Hispanic man if they know anyone who’s been through it, chances are you’ll hear a yes. 

Every so often the question “Why do you stay?” is asked in these situations. Being in an abusive relationship is the opposite of the so-called “American Dream” many Hispanic women hope for when they travel to the U.S. One of the many misconceptions about domestic violence is that women are allowing themselves to stay trapped, and society lacks to instead pose the thought “How did the abuser block them from leaving?” or “Why do people choose to abuse their partners?”

The harsh reality is, leaving can be extremely dangerous. Abusers can turn more violent if they suspect their partner plans to flee. Women are faced with many threats to their own lives and their children’s lives. Families of the victim could also be brought into the harmful situation as abusers feed off anything that will hurt the partner to grow the circle of violence. Among undocumented Hispanic women, abusers can use legal status as a scare tactic, threatening to get them deported or having their kids taken away — a mother’s worst nightmare.

It’s no secret that the American system sets minorities up to fail from the very beginning; in every aspect of life, too many times women caught in domestic violence lack the knowledge of laws and services created to help them fight their way out of hell. And of course, our American system has no interest in getting the word out that here, there is at least the chance of getting the abuser into a courtroom; much less would they dare to care for the lack of hired Spanish-speaking staff at women’s shelters. Many immigrant Hispanic women believe they have no resources, similar to the way of life in their home country, where governments are far more corrupt and completely disregard the sheer existence of domestic violence. 

Familism is at the center of Hispanic culture. Family structure is held high and any rips or tears in the concept deeply impacts a family member’s individuality and idea of self-worth. Leaving your partner can be disgraceful no matter the situation. Hispanic women may fear backlash, embarrassment, and rejection from their families if they were to choose to leave their abuser. Among the Hispanic community, each family member has a very important role and oftentimes machismo takes over what is best for the family. Men — fathers — are seen as the ones with the utmost authority in a household, and we know how difficult it is to remove or avoid a person in power.

Education towards any sort of social issue is important. We can’t allow uneducated people in our society to create an opinion about a problem they do not know enough about. Hearing others pose the question of why Hispanic women stay in silence when they are being abused in their own homes can be stopped. It’s difficult to leave, and for Hispanic women, as minorities, many things are at their disadvantage. Once we know what these disadvantages are, domestic violence can truly be fought. Until then, we must let the words Ni una mas ring in society’s ears.