Latin American immigrants face many obstacles to accessing Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) services in the United States. Consequently, these survivors may also seek informal resources, such as religious support. However, as IPV practitioners develop more accessible services, these programs may contradict such religious beliefs and further alienate these survivors. Based on anthropological insights on Christianity and ethnographic research at an IPV crisis center, this study identifies several key ways in which evangelical Christianity is an influential resource for immigrant Latina survivors, and suggests ideas for practitioners to better accommodate these understandings.
These findings are based on twelve months of ethnographic research at an IPV crisis center in Connecticut with a forty percent Latina clientele and growing Latina services program. Research methods included participant observation in four Spanish speaking Latina support groups, semi-structured client interviews with thirty immigrant Latina clients, semi-structured interviews with fifteen staff members, and semi-structured interviews with thirty outside service providers, including three evangelical pastors and one Catholic priest. Staff members and outside service providers were chosen based on the relevance of their services and relationships to the Latina clients. The clients interviewed were those most regularly in support group attendance and able to make time for one or more interview sessions. The researcher then conducted selective coding of support group field notes and interviews to analyze consistent patterns and differences in approach to IPV and cultural competency among practitioners and experiences with immigration, religion, and IPV among clients.
This study identified how evangelical Christianity was an important resource for immigrant Latina clients receiving formal IPV social services. Of the thirty clients interviewed, eighteen engaged in lengthy conversations regarding religion. Twelve were affiliated with evangelical Christianity, while the remaining six were affiliated with Catholicism, or had a flexible affiliation between Catholicism and evangelical Christianity. For these clients, Christianity supplied three key supports not found through formal outlets, particularly when grappling with long-term emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma. Firstly, evangelical beliefs allowed them to make meaning of violent experiences; secondly, an intimate relationship with God allowed them to feel less isolated; thirdly, regular prayer facilitated building embodied strength to move forward through continuous hardship. These clients regularly translated the center’s lessons through this evangelical lens, such as making decisions based on what they believed God desired of them, rather than following state law. These clients responded positively to staff who were willing to engage with them regarding these religious beliefs, forming the basis of fruitful relationships.
Conclusions and Implications:
This research demonstrates the ways that evangelical Christianity can be an important informal resource for immigrant Latina survivors of IPV alongside formal support services. The creative ways that they reconciled these systems thus offers insights for more culturally competent services. These findings suggest that being empathetic and flexible with respect to such religious practices and understandings can contribute to the formation of productive, respectful, and long-term relationships between clients and practitioners.