Domestic violence (DV) – also called intimate partner violence (IPV), domestic abuse, or relationship abuse – is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. DV does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can be a victim or perpetrator. It can happen to people who are married, living together, or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
DV includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish, or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse, and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of DV can occur at any one time within the same intimate relationship. Sexual assault (SA) is an act in which a person intentionally touches another person sexually without that person’s consent and/or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.1 SA is a form of sexual violence, which includes rape (forced vaginal, anal, or oral penetration or drug facilitated sexual assault), groping, child sexual abuse, or the torture of an individual in a sexual manner.2
The Power and Control diagram produced by the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence is a tool used to understand what happens in an abusive relationship. the overall pattern of abusive and violent behaviors which are used to establish and maintain control over the victim. Often, one or more violent incidents are associated with these other types of abused depicted in the image below.
The effects of violence are severe and can affect both the victim and their families’ physical and mental health. In addition to the immediate injuries from the assault, battered victims may suffer from chronic pain, gastrointestinal disorders, psychosomatic symptoms, and eating disorders. Although psychological abuse is often considered less severe than physical violence, health care providers and advocates around the world are increasingly recognizing that all forms of DV have devastating physical and emotional health effects. DV is associated with mental health problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. Women who are abused suffer an increased risk of unplanned or early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. As trauma victims, they are also at an increased risk of substance abuse and suicide. According to a U.S. study, women who experience intimate partner violence are three times more likely to have gynecological problems than non-abused women.3 Violence and abuse affect not just the women involved but also their children, families, and communities. These effects include harm to an individual’s health, possible long-term harm to children, and harm to communities, such as lost work and homelessness.4 Victims of DV and SA can also be affected in other areas of their daily life, such as their inability to work, attend school, or stay in their homes due to the fear of being assaulted again, which can result in loss of jobs and financial instability.
Abusers often isolate victims from family, friends, and resources, which makes a potentially lifesaving visit to a doctor, health clinic, emergency room or other services incredibly difficult for victims. Through their work in the community, Community Health Workers (CHWs) can reach out to victims in need of assistance and offer their services. As trusted members of the community, CHWs are in a unique position to offer resources, provide support, and educate victims of DV and/or SA. They encourage and assist victims to report abuse, receive counseling and medical attention, join support groups, and apply for benefits for themselves or their children. CHWs are also equipped to provide victims/survivors with community-based, health-related services, such as assistance with translation, case management, and advocacy. CHWs can assist individuals that may not have access to information and resources either because they live in rural area, their immigration status, language barriers, lack of transportation, and/or knowledge of services. Community Health Workers can provide referrals to local organizations that can assist victims with legal representation.
An example at work is El Arte de Sobrevivir (The Art of Surviving), a program based out of South Texas that promotes healthy relationships through education provided by CHWs. The program’s primary focus is on providing support for low-income, Spanish-speaking Latinas and aims to eliminate gaps in services for survivors of DV and SA through outreach, referrals for services, and art-based support groups.5 In Latino communities, DV and SA within a relationship is a topic not frequently discussed.
While it is a common tactic for an abuser to isolate the victim, the victim’s isolation in the Latino community may be intensified by a language barrier. Lack of English proficiency can result in limited awareness of resources available to help victims leave their abusive relationship. A limited knowledge of English can also pose a barrier if the victim does not fully understand exactly what the support services entail and how to access them. It is important to note that community outreach and education for Spanish-speaking victims of DV and/or SA is often non-existent. Few materials are created specifically for Latinas or translated into Spanish, making the language barrier much more real and difficult to overcome.6