Surviving domestic and sexual violence while undocumented: one woman’s story

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). To learn more, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Ana* met her husband online through a Christian dating website. He was charming, handsome, and seemed to adore her when they first met. After they married, all that changed. Her husband became manipulative, jealous, and controlling. He began treating her like a sex slave and playing mind games with her—at one point even demanding that she agree that the white walls in their house were pink.

Like many domestic and sexual violence cases, the abuse Ana suffered was difficult to see from the outside. With no witness, no black eyes, no rape kits, no broken bones, there was little proof of violence needed to call the police. To make matters worse, Ana, an undocumented immigrant woman with no family in the US except for her toddler, had no legal freedom and no support network.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services allows battered spouses, children, or parents to file immigrant visa petitions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The provisions allow certain spouses, children, and parents of US citizens and certain spouses and children of permanent residents, or Green Card holders, to file a petition for themselves without the abuser’s knowledge. This allows victims to seek both safety and independence from their abuser, who is not notified about the filing. VPLC’s Legal Assistance for Victim-Immigrants of Domestic Abuse (LA VIDA) program worked with Ana to file a petition. After much hard work to show proof of the “non-physical” violence she suffered, we were thrilled to find out that Ana’s petition had been approved.

When Ana first came to VPLC, she was terrified and disoriented, getting confused about seemingly simple questions. Her husband’s emotional abuse had severely impacted her sense of self and her grip on reality. It will take her time and years of counseling to gain back the confidence and personality he stripped from her. But now, Ana is a permanent resident of the United States, safe and free from her abuser. We hope the new status will help her along her path to recovery and joy.

*Name has been changed to protect the client’s identity.


For immediate assistance, call the local legal aid office that serves your area or call (866) 534-5243 to contact your local legal aid office.

Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance

DV Prevention – Virginia Department of Social Services

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