Women’s Center and Shelter


How Seeking Help is Different for Refugees, Immigrants, and Limited-English Speakers

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Imagine that you left your war-torn country for a better life for you and children. But now the war zone is re-established in your new home, and your husband is at the forefront. You plan to leave with your children in the middle night, trying to take only what is necessary. As you reach to grab your immigration papers, you realize they’re not in the box where they’re always kept. You search frantically, but they’re nowhere to be found. Without them, you cannot prove you have documentation and therefore cannot leave. You can’t escape the violence.

This is a reality for many refugee, immigrant, and limited-English speaking (RIL) women.  While women across the country all have barriers for leaving an abusive relationship, there are unique barriers that RIL women face. Each RIL Team member has special areas of expertise to help these women: outreach to immigrant and refugee communities to educate them about domestic violence and provide support to victims; on-site strengthening to support RIL residents and to increase staff capabilities; and legal advocacy that includes court accompaniment and follow up with RIL clients.

immigrants domestic abuseOur RIL Team works to address these issues to make sure that all women have the opportunity to live a safe and happy life. Some of these barriers include:

Language Barriers If a woman comes to the United States and does not know English, it makes it easier for her abuser to isolate her and prevent her from seeking help. It can also make it difficult for these women to access the legal system. In order to ensure that any woman who wants to leave her abuser is able to leave, our RIL Team provides translation of any language for any of our services and provides multicultural phone lines.

Ignorance of US Law Enforcement If the country a woman originates from has a poor justice system, she will also often believe that United States justice system cannot help her either. Additionally, her abuser may lie to her about our justice system and the resources available to her. To overcome these misconceptions, our RIL team holds Open Door sessions in RIL communities to educate them about our legal system. There is also help for the women during legal proceedings.

Fear of Deportation For undocumented immigrants, they fear that their abuser may notify US authorities of their presence should they try to leave. They also do not qualify for as many programs and services provided by the government. However, our staff at WC&S does not discriminate and undocumented immigrants have the same access to our services as documented immigrants and citizens. If necessary, our legal team will help them obtain a U visa, which is granted to nonimmigrants who suffer abuse as long as they are willing to work with law enforcement to prosecute the abuser, or asylum.

Lack of Community Awareness about IPV and Services Available If RIL women come from a culture where abuse is normalized, they may not realize they are in an abusive relationship. It is also easier for these abusers to isolate them if they are unable to work, or there may be cultural pressure for her to stay with her abuser. To raise awareness of IPV and our work to RIL communities, we also have a Women’s Ambassador program. This program trains RIL women about IPV and the Shelter so they can bring awareness to their communities.

While RIL women face unique barriers to seeking help, our RIL Team is devoted to breaking these barriers down. Through our many programs dedicated to RIL women, we’ve helped these women leave abuse who otherwise would have no other option but to stay.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact our RIL Team:

Specialty Services Advocate Bhola Dhungana works principally with outreach to RIL communities to teach people about domestic violence and the resources available to survivors.  He also supports RIL clients experiencing domestic violence. dhunganab@wcspittsburgh.org or 412-687-8017 x355.

Specialty Services Advocate Rebecca Garcia works with RIL clients in shelter and the community to educate about domestic violence and provide supportive services. She also facilitates training for WC&S personnel who are striving to increase their culturally humility. garciar@wcspittsburgh.org or 412-687-8017 x353.

Specialty Legal Advocate Natalia Valdes accompanies clients through the court system. She works with systems advocacy to meet with court administrators/judges to improve processes for RIL clients. This work includes connecting to and educating immigrant communities. valdesn@wcspittsburgh.org or at 412-687-8017 x358.

Specialty Legal Advocate Sing Zhang also accompanies clients through the court system. She, too, works with systems advocacy to meet with court administrators/judges to improve processes for RIL clients. Work includes connecting to and educating immigrant communities.  zhangs@wcspittsburgh.org or at 412-355-7405 x118.

Shelter/Hotline Advocate Amanda Kish (RIL Team Spanish speaker) can be reached at kisha@wcspittsburgh.org or 412-687-8017 x302.

Shelter/Hotline Advocate Selena Benitez-Cuffee (RIL Team Spanish speaker) can be reached at benitezcuffees@wcspittsburgh.org or 412-687-8017 x306.