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Fostering a Sanctuary for Immigrant Survivors of Sexual Violence

Immigrants and Refugees Welcome sign

As heated and often harrowing media stories of immigration and the challenges facing immigrants continue, we see related effects on the survivors seeking help from BARCC. In this social and political climate, BARCC works to provide a sanctuary for immigrant survivors.

One key feature of sexual violence is that it is often unspeakable and dehumanizing. The tone and tenor of the current debate on immigration often compounds this harm. Immigration policy changes and public discourse are pushing survivors toward isolation, rather than lifting them up.

Eighteen years ago, on April 1, 1999, an immigrant survivor named Patience was brave enough to share her story with the Boston Globe. Her experience is a powerful and personal example of the intersection of rape, war, trauma, and healing. As many survivors do, Patience overcame significant fear and shame to seek out our services. At BARCC today, we are seeing immigrant survivors carry an additional burden of fear, another layer of trauma.

Some facts about sexual assault and immigration

  • Many immigrants have been victims of sexual assault or rape in their home country. As in the United States, there is a high rate of sexual violence in other countries. In addition, rape is also used as a tool of war and gang violence in Syria, El Salvador, Honduras, and many other places experiencing significant national conflict.

  • According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “Some academics and humanitarian organizations estimate that as many as six out of 10 women and girls experience some sort of sexual violence during the journey through Mexico into the United States.” And sexual violence along the migration route is not unique to Mexico.

  • The SPLC also explains in that same piece: “Sexual predators view farmworker women and other undocumented women as ‘perfect victims’ because they are isolated, thought to lack credibility, generally do not know their rights, and may be vulnerable because they lack legal status.” This targeting of immigrant workers is evidenced in report after report.

  • Immigration crackdowns in the United States are leading to fewer survivors reporting to the police. As the New York Times Editorial Board recently wrote: in Los Angeles, “reports made by immigrant Latinos of sexual assault had dropped 25 percent in 2017 through March 18, compared with the same period last year.”

What you can do

There are many things you can do to support immigrant survivors. You can speak out in favor of legislation that will enable them to live in less fear. On April 5, BARCC is taking part in the Annual Immigrants Day at the Massachusetts State House, which is advocating for the Safe Communities Act.

You can also learn skills to do something when you see or hear inappropriate comments or behavior targeting immigrants. We are offering Tools to Take Action: Bystander Intervention Training, a free workshop that is open to the public on April 13.

And last but not least, you can refer immigrant survivors to BARCC. As always, we strive to offer a place of safety that is free of judgement and stigma. We appreciate everyone in our communities who helps us spread the word that BARCC services are free, that we do not ask about immigration status, and that we hold all of our services to the highest standards of confidentiality. We hope that our attention and commitment to survivor privacy will help survivors who are immigrants reach out in this increasingly hostile and harmful environment. Because an immigrant survivor, like any survivor, deserves a space to discover their voice and engage in their journey to healing. We offer free services in English, Spanish, and a wide variety of other languages upon request. Our services include counseling, legal advocacy, and assistance with immediate and longer-term health, housing, financial, and safety needs.

Together, we will make our communities safer, more welcoming, and more hopeful. We will offer survivors of all sorts, including immigrants, a special sanctuary.  

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Posted by Gina Scaramella

Gina Scaramella
Gina Scaramella, LICSW, provides the vision and strategic leadership to advance BARCC's mission. As executive director since 2003, she works closely with people within and outside of the organization to continually grow and improve it. Gina began at BARCC as a volunteer hotline counselor in 1989 before heading to graduate school. She joined staff in 1995 to coordinate the medical and legal advocacy programs. Gina has grown BARCC’s budget nearly three­fold and developed the infrastructure to ensure BARCC's positive impact for survivors, in our communities, and beyond. Gina has worked nationally as an expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was part of the EMPOWER leadership team, which was tasked with formulating Massachusetts’s approach to preventing sexual violence. She also served as an expert for the federal Defending Childhood Project of the Boston Public Health Commission. Currently she is on the board of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program, the project management team of the National Telenursing Center, the advisory board for the Indicators Project of the Vera Center for Justice, and the leadership team of the National Vicarious Trauma Tool Kit project with Northeastern University. Gina holds an LICSW license and earned her master of social work degree from Boston University.

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