Abstract: Exploring the Criminal and Health Justice Service Experiences and Needs of Immigrant and Refugee Victims/Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Exploring the Criminal and Health Justice Service Experiences and Needs of Immigrant and Refugee Victims/Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Friday, January 18, 2019: 3:30 PM
Golden Gate 4, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Cecilia Mengo, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Julianna Nemeth, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Brieanne Beaujolais, MA, MSW, Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Abigail Coyle, Student - Undergraduate, Ohio State University

Domestic violence (DV) affects populations worldwide. Immigrant and refugee women, who make up 12% of the US population, experience higher rates of DV than their US-born counterparts. The limited research that exists on DV among immigrants and refugee women is based primarily on professional perspectives. There is a call for attention to the lack of knowledge on unique issues faced by immigrant and refugee women who are victims of DV. Additional research is, therefore, needed to better understand the unique cultural and societal factors affecting immigrant and refugee women as they seek help from criminal and health justice services after experience with DV and sexual assault (SA). This study sought to explore knowledge, experiences, perceptions, attitudes of and access to: 1) criminal justice agencies, 2) advocacy agencies (i.e. domestic violence and rape crisis advocacy both in court-based and community settings), and 3) culturally-specific services among immigrant and refugee victims of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA).


Participants (N=35) were recruited using purposive sampling methods through agencies in a Midwest city in the U.S. that serves immigrants and refugees. Participants were eligible to participate in the study based on the following criteria: (a) female, (b) 14 years and older, (c) immigrant or refugee, (d) if country of origin is Bhutan, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, (e) ever-experienced DV or SA. It was not required that participants speak English. A semi-structured in-depth interview questionnaire with both open and closed ended questions was used to guide the interviews. The closed-ended questions asked participants their demographic information. The open-ended questions included primary and probing questions exploring knowledge, experiences, perceptions, attitudes, and challenges to accessing criminal, health, advocacy, and culturally-specific domestic violence and sexual assault services. Interviews were audio recorded, translated and transcribed. Four researchers analyzed the data using coding and thematic development.


Findings indicate that participants were unaware of services and resources related to domestic violence or sexual assault. Most of their experiences with services were with cultural agencies who had helped with resettlement. Few women had sought help from the police and reported variety of feelings with police interactions. Women also shared their stories on how they had experienced discrimination and everyday micro-aggressions while seeking other services from various service providers. They also indicated that some of these social service agencies lacked a victim-centered approach while engaging with them. Some of the challenges to accessing services that women reported included a concern for privacy, fear of consequences and safety, social isolation, gender norms and expectations, language barriers, and transportation barriers.

Conclusion and Implications

Results from this study extend and expand our limited knowledge about immigrant and refugee victim/survivors’ experiences and perceptions of DV and SA services available to them. We offer recommendations for culturally specific strategies that can be implemented in order to bolster criminal and health justice services for immigrant and refugee women victim/survivors of DV and SA.