Mexican Immigrant Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: Conceptualization and Descriptions of Abuse

Article excerpt

This phenomenological qualitative study examines intimate partner violence (IPV) experienced by a sample of 29 Mexican immigrant women residing in New York and St. Louis. The findings reveal important insights about culturally specific abuse tactics employed by batterers and the forms of abuse that are experienced as most hurtful to the survivors. Ten different abusive tactics emerged: verbal, economic, physical, sexual, and extended family abuse, social isolation, physical abuse of children, stalking and monitoring, stolen bride, and sex trafficking. Cultural values and expectations appear to be inextricably linked to how the participants characterized the severity of each of the abusive tactics as evidenced by which abusive behaviors the participants found most hurtful. The findings will help service providers have a better understanding of the role cultural context plays in the IPV experiences of Mexican immigrant women.

Keywords: intimate partner violence; Mexican immigrant women; culture; abuse tactics

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 25 million immigrants residing in the United States are from Mexico and 6.5 million of them have unauthorized immigration status (Hoefer, Rytina, & Campbell, 2007). Studies suggest that Latinas experience abuse at higher rates than White females (Caetano, Field, Ramisetty- Mikler, & McGrath, 2005; Field & Caetano, 2005), and the abuse they experience is often more severe (Caetano et al., 2005). Yet, little is known about Mexican immigrant women's unique experiences of abuse. Cultural and structural factors in Mexico may influence Mexican immigrant women's definition of intimate partner violence (IPV), their perceptions of the severity of abusive tactics, and what they experience as most hurtful about the abuse (Peek-Asa, Garcia, McArthur, & Castro, 2002).

Existing research across battered immigrant women of other ethnic groups supports the influence of cultural context on the experience of abuse tactics in the United States (Bhuyan, Mell, Senturia, Sullivan, & Shiu-Thornton, 2005; Shiu-Thornton, Senturia, & Sullivan, 2005). Striking similarities were found in the abusive tactics used by batterers across Cambodian, Ethiopian, Russian, and Vietnamese immigrant groups who exploited immigrant-related factors (Bhuyan et al., 2005; Crandall, Senturia, Sullivan, & Sui-Thornton, 2005; Shiu-Thornton et al., 2005; Sullivan, Senturia, Negash, Shiu-Thornton, & Giday, 2005). The batterers in four immigrant groups isolated the women from friends and family and prevented them from leaving the house, taking English as a second language (ESL) classes, or working. Batterers exploited their partner's dependent immigration status, their limited English speaking abilities and knowledge of the local community to restrict the actions of the women, and discourage them from seeking help (Bhuyan et al., 2005; Crandall et al., 2005; Shiu-Thornton et al., 2005; Sullivan et al., 2005).

Perceptions of IPV among abused women appeared to be influenced by what was valued in their respective cultural context. For example, these same samples of Russian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Ethiopian women perceived IPV to be common or normal. They thought women were expected to endure the abuse for the sake of the family and because they believed women were held responsible for the failure of the marriage (Bhuyan et al., 2005; Crandall et al., 2005; Shiu-Thornton et al., 2005). In addition, the women attributed their partner's abuse to acculturative stress and excessive alcohol use (Bhuyan et al., 2005; Shiu-Thornton et al., 2005).

The existing research of the role of community and cultural context on the manifestation and experience of IPV for Mexican immigrant women remains small, even IPV research among other Latino immigrant groups is limited (Klevens, 2007). A handful of quantitative studies support an association between place of birth, acculturation, acculturative stress, language use, gender role, migratory status, and IPV in the Latino community (Cunradi, 2009; Frias & Angel, 2005; Harris, Firestone, & Vega, 2005; Van Hightower, Gorton, & DeMoss, 2000). …