When a woman is a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, fiancé or boyfriend, finding a way to remove herself from the situation can seem impossible, especially when children and finances are factored in. On average, a female victim of domestic violence returns to her abuser seven times before she is able to leave for good. For women who are undocumented immigrants into the United States, the obstacles to leaving an abuser are even more insurmountable, and the potential consequences even more troubling.

For undocumented women, the fear of being deported is often the main motivator to stay in an abusive relationship. Often, women rely on their husbands for green cards or permanent resident sponsorship, leading them to believe that they are literally trapped in that relationship. An abusive husband contributes to this belief, telling the victim that she cannot stay in the U.S. without him, and threatening to report her to local law enforcement and immigration authorities if she leaves.

According to Police Sgt. Fabian Pacheco, this often causes the undocumented woman to be doubly victimized. "They're first assaulted by their significant other," he said, "and secondly they get victimized because they don't get access to police services out of fear of reporting that crime and then being deported."

Undocumented victims of domestic violence are often afraid that if they leave their husband, they will lose their children, and rightly so, according to legal advocate Leah Heathcoat. "If [the mother] gets arrested or detained or anything like that, custody can and often does go to the citizen parent," she said.

In addition, logistical factors, such as finances or difficulty navigating a complicated legal system, can keep a victim in an abusive relationship. Undocumented women are not able to work legally in the U.S., leaving them with few options for supporting themselves. "Sometimes the person who's the victim of domestic violence has no access to the financial resources because the abuser might be the one who has the control of the financial resources," says advocate and legislator David Lujan. So when the victim of abuse finally tries to leave the abuser suddenly they're out there with no resources."

We will continue our discussion of this topic later in the week.

Source: ABC, "Undocumented domestic abuse victims face hurdles", Rebekah Zemansky, 3 January 2011