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“Living in Silence”: raising awareness of gender-based violence towards immigrants

What is the first question that comes to mind about domestic violence? Who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. Most of the time, people think of a male perpetrator and a female victim, both citizens of the United States.  

However, 51 percent of intimate partner homicide victims are foreign-born. Sexual and domestic violence is against the law regardless of immigration status, yet so many young women and men are trapped in situations of violence because of their status in the U.S.

To raise awareness on this issue, UMBC’s Mosaic Center for Culture and Diversity held an event in the Skylight lounge called “Living in Silence: Gender-based Violence in the Immigrant Community.”

The event was centered around a simulation game that allowed people to experience the stories of immigrant women firsthand. The game began with each person receiving a character card, describing where their person was from and how their new lives began.

Each story was based off the true stories of Latina immigrant women and was translated from their native languages, giving a more personal connection to each character.

The character card ended with the ominous phrase “the problems began later” and led each person to different tables around the room to make decisions for the next step of their characters.

Going from table to table and making decisions to get the character safely away from her abuser only stripped her of her possessions and life, leading her down a more destitute path. It became clear that each decision was also influenced by her fear of being deported.

Many people had their characters avoid any type of law enforcement, but as a result, put these women in even more danger from their abusers. Overall, the game was stressful and frustrating, especially when some characters had their stories end with death, imprisonment, or deportation.

Throughout the game, it felt like the character was lost in a sea of fear and violence, one that she could not easily escape without giving up everything she had.

“I am glad people were frustrated,” said Becca Mann, a junior social work major and Mosaic Center intern who helped organize the event. “That was the point. But, there are little things we can do everyday that can help raise awareness and visibility for this population.”

An excerpt from a PBS Frontline documentary was played after the game called “Rape in the Fields,” discussing sexual violence towards immigrant female field workers who were denied protection due to their status in the U.S.

Afterwards, Mann asked the audience about what they felt about the excerpt and throughout the simulation, what challenges they faced, and how their character’s immigrant status influenced their decisions.

Many people said the same thing over and over again: ‘no matter how hard I tried to get away from my abuser, he always found me and had everything taken away from me.’ That sentence in a nutshell describes the life of a domestic violence victim.

Throughout the event, a slideshow played giving resources and tips for people to help immigrant victims of gender-based violence. Listening and supporting survivors and their stories is crucial in raising them back up to fully human life they deserve to live, one of peace, harmony, and without fear.