Intimate partner violence in immigrant and refugee communities

By Abisha Sooriyathas

Posted on November 29, 2021
Intimate partner violence (IPV) can be defined as assaultive or controlling behaviours used by a current or former partner against an individual. These behaviours can include physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual abuse, as well as social isolation, stalking, and threats/intimidation. Other lesser known forms of intimate partner violence include financial violence (such as withholding money or controlling bank accounts) and neglect (which includes withholding food, care, and medications).

Although both men and women can be victims of IPV, it is primarily an issue that affects women. Many women who are victims of IPV may avoid seeking help in order to preserve their relationship. They may also fear the stigma and gossip that they might face amongst others in their community if they speak up about their experiences. It is important that victims are made aware that any abuse that they face is not their fault, and that they should not accept being shamed for it.
woman with writing on back
Violence between partners occurs throughout the world, and is not tied to individuals of a single culture, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. According to a survey conducted by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, IPV is not more prevalent in immigrant and refugee populations than in other groups. However, while non-fatal IPV may be reported as lower for these immigrant groups, the same article explains that immigrant populations experience higher IPV-related death rates.

Why don’t the numbers add up?

The discrepancy between the number of reported instances of IPV and the IPV-related deaths could be attributed to many different factors. It could indicate that existing systems and law enforcement institutions are failing to adequately respond to instances of IPV in immigrant communities.

An article by the University of Western Ontario explains that immigrant and refugee women hold many intersecting identities (ex: sex, gender, sexuality, education, race/ethnicity, etc.). These intersections can often impact an individual’s vulnerability to IPV, as well as the system’s response to them. Women who are discriminated against in more than one way often have difficulty being believed, accessing support, and finding safety.
child with parents arguing in the background
The inconsistency in the number of reported instances of IPV and IPV-related deaths in immigrant communities could also be due to lack of reporting in its early stages. Again, this is not the fault of the victims of IPV. Reporting instances of abuse is often a very difficult and emotionally draining task, especially for immigrant women who may experience language barriers and unfamiliarity with Canada’s legal system. In addition, victims may fear for their safety and security if they choose to speak out. This is especially true in communities that believe in harmful gender roles which claim that men have ownership over women in heterosexual relationships.

These gender roles can be extremely detrimental to the wellbeing of women in these relationships. Again, it is important that women know that their gender does not give anyone the right to inflict abuse onto them. In addition, being married or in a relationship does not allow your partner to use physical violence against you or control what you do sexually.

The way that you feel in your relationship matters. If you feel physically, mentally, or sexually abused by someone in your life, please seek the help that you need and deserve.
The Newcomer has an article that includes an extensive list of resources for individuals who are experiencing sexual violence. Although seeking out help can be scary at first, it is worth it in the end. If you feel that you are alone, know that there are women who are currently experiencing the same struggles as you, women who have faced and freed themselves from IPV, and women who are willing to guide you in doing the same.

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