Spotlight on Domestic Violence

Update on Undocumented Victim Information

March 7th, 2017

spotlightOur AmeriCorps member, Morgan Roy, wrote a follow-up blog to her post last week with some additional information regarding undocumented victims of domestic violence.


Victims of domestic violence face several barriers when it comes to disclosing their abuse. These could include fear of rejection, less-than-desirable interactions with organizations or law enforcement, and fear of confidentiality being broken. Those who are in the country without proper paperwork face additional barriers to disclosing their victim status and being provided resources. It is a common misconception that undocumented immigrants cannot seek out assistance. Most of these people never reveal the violence that is occurring for fear of being deported. In my last blog, I wrote about Visa options for undocumented immigrants as well as general resources available. Since the time of my last Spotlight post, I have gotten a hold of information pertaining to new executive orders and policy changes surrounding immigration from the ACCESS housing coordinator, Virginia Griesheimer. She has been in contact with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) to stay up-to-date on Iowa’s legislative details, and is now partnering with AmeriCorps Partnering to Protect Children (APPC) to disperse the latest findings.  I pulled information that was the most critical for victims and children of domestic violence.

  • Everyone who is undocumented is a priority.
    • A note to victims: try to maintain a clean police record. If law enforcement notices prior arrests or charges, they will become a target. Note that this can include charges related to driving.
  • Revoke prior memos directing prosecutorial discretion.
    • Prosecutorial discretion leaves an agency or officer in charge of determining what to do with the case due to victim status.
      • That authority has been taken away from prosecutors. It’s now more in the hands of legal professionals with specialized training in serving victims, advocates, and the clients themselves to try and advocate for a slowdown on deportation, but there are no guarantees.
    • Punish ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions.
      • “These cities, counties, and states have laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE — either by refusing to or prohibiting agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, denying ICE access to interview incarcerated aliens, or otherwise impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers.” -Jessica Vaughan, CIS Director of Policy Studies.
      • ICE detainers allow for a person to be held for an extra 48 hours in jail while an immigration agency decides what to do with the case.
        • The ‘sanctuary’ city of Des Moines won’t honor an ICE detainer without judge approval. Marion County will not honor the detainer unless a judge approved the move with a probable cause warrant. Try to note what the criteria for honoring an ICE detainer nearby.
      • 287 (g) Agreements.
        • This gives state and local law enforcement authority to carry out the functions of immigration law enforcement.
          • State and local law enforcement may now investigate, apprehend, and detain undocumented immigrants.
          • It is stated that these officers must be trained under ICE officers. There is currently no public information pertaining to state and local law enforcement in Iowa under 287 (g).
        • Expedited Removal Expansion.
          • This now covers someone located anywhere in the United States who has entered within the last two years.
            • A note to victims and advocates: if an interaction with law enforcement is to occur, it is recommended to state that the victim has been in the U.S. for two years.
            • A note to victims: if an interaction with law enforcement is to occur, don’t speak until professional representation is present, whether that be a lawyer or an advocate.

Iowa’s Coalition on Domestic Violence reported a decrease in number of applications being processed by USCIS. They are working to determine whether the attention drawn by applying for a VAWA or U-Visa will attract negative attention, putting a victim at risk of investigation. While these factors do raise additional barriers to reporting, there are still supports in place that offer free and confidential assistance. Domestic Violence advocates are being trained to handle clients without documentation in a manner that attempts to minimize the involvement of immigration law enforcement. It is not impossible to gain independence from an abuser, one must be smart and know who is on their side with their best interest at heart.

Refer to the following website to search for local domestic violence programs in your area.

Des Moines has domestic violence programs available to cater to specific races/ethnicities:

Asians: (866) 881-4641

Africans: (866) 881-4641

Latinas: (866) 256-7668

National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233

Intersectionality: Domestic Violence and Immigration

February 14th, 2017

spotlightHello readers! We apologize for our year long hiatus, but things have been progressing quickly with our implementation of the Safe & Together Model. More on that to come!

In the mean time, our new AmeriCorps member, Morgan Roy, has written a wonderful blog on domestic violence and immigration. Welcome to Morgan, and enjoy her article below!

“As we know in child welfare, victims of domestic violence face several barriers when it comes to disclosing their abuse. These could include fear of rejection, less-than-desirable interactions with organizations or law enforcement, and fear of confidentiality being broken. Those who are in the country without proper paperwork face additional barriers to disclosing their victim status and being provided resources. It is a common misconception that undocumented immigrants cannot seek out assistance. Most of these people never reveal the violence that is occurring for fear of being deported. Here is where we bust that myth and provide resources.

I did some research at the website to gain a better understanding of the deportation process. For an undocumented resident to physically be removed from the United States, a report must be made (this can be done by anyone.) After this, the case would be formed and read in the U.S. Department of Justice: Immigration Courts. If a judge decides that deportation is to proceed, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carries out the removal order.

It is not in the job description of a domestic violence advocate to report people who are here illegally, nor is it the job of hospital staff or school employees to file a report. While it is being pushed for law enforcement to identify undocumented immigrants upon intake, this does not mean that the end result will be deportation. Under U.S. law, any crime victim can call the police for help or obtain a protection order (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). Anyone may call 9-1-1 if in an unsafe situation and make a report to law enforcement.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recognizes domestic violence among undocumented citizens. Per their website, “A battered spouse, child or parent may file an immigrant visa petition under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).” This amendment allows qualified spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents (Green Card holders) to file a petition in order to gain safety and independence from their abuser. It is important to note that the perpetrator is never notified about the filing. Individuals looking to file must fill out Form I-360 and provide all documentation to support the case. Upon approval, individuals could be eligible for a Green Card. This website has information pertaining to qualification requirements and access to Form I-360.

An alternative to the petition process is an application for a U Visa. This option has a broader list of criminal activities against a victim, which includes, “Rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation […]” (American Immigration Council, 2012). These activities must have violated U.S. laws, or taken place in the U.S. One major factor that sets this visa aside from the previously discussed selection is that the victim must be cooperative in aiding a federal, state, or local investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also has a page that covers basic protections under civil and criminal law, regardless of citizenship status.

  • The right to obtain a protection order for you and your child(ren).
  • The right to legal separation or divorce without the consent of your spouse.
  • The right to ask for custody of your child(ren) and financial support: this includes child support.

When a parent files the petition, they are subject to the family preference system. In regards to the Immigration and Nationality Act, family-based visas can be permitted to immediate relatives or distant familial relationships, under the right circumstances. According to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, the spouse of the U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and their children, provided they are under the age of 21 and unmarried, are qualified for the Immediate Relative Immigrant Visa. The Family Preference Immigrant Visa goes on to include a wide range of family members that qualify. It is important to note that the Family Preference visas are limited in quantity per fiscal year. The American Immigration Council published an article discussing alternative forms of immigration relief, one being Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This is available to non-citizen minors who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. Eligibility requirements mandate that the child must be under 21, unmarried, and deemed suitable by a juvenile court.”

-Morgan Roy, AmeriCorps Member

High School and Restraining Orders

January 15th, 2016

spotlightEven though our AmeriCorps member Evan Abramsky completed his term in November, we will be honoring him by posting some blogs he completed during his time with us. Thanks, Evan!


It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million high school students in the US are the victims of intimate partner violence each year. Protections for minors often vary from state to state; unfortunately, Iowa’s laws place greater burdens and restrictions on minors seeking protection than many other states. It has been found that those aged 16 through 24 are at the highest risk of violence in the US, which makes this limitation even more troubling. In fact, according to research conducted by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), it is estimated that one in three adolescents is the victim of physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual violence! According to the Iowa Dept. of Education, there are more than 150,000 students enrolled in Iowa high schools; assuming the NCCD’s estimate is correct, that means more than 50,000 Iowa students are at risk of intimate partner violence, but may lack the opportunity to independently use key tools in protecting themselves.

In states that offer more protections for minors, like California, those as young as 12 years old can independently file for a restraining order. However, in Iowa, a victim must be at least 18 before she can be afforded the same basic protection. Limiting restraining orders to those at least 18 years of age severely limits the options available to Iowa high school students who are the victims of stalking or abuse by an intimate partner.

In addition, in Iowa, if a minor wishes to file a restraining order, they require the permission of a parent or legal guardian. This unnecessarily restricts the number of adults available to aid a minor who is seeking a restraining order, and would be particularly difficult for a minor victimized by a parent or legal guardian. Michigan allows for minors to receive the legal support of “next friends” in applying for a restraining order, a legal term referring to trusted adults, like teachers, counselors, or family friends. Such a program greatly expands the field of potential supports that a victim can seek, and can only serve to benefit

In order to expand the rights of Iowa high school students that are made the victims of intimate partner violence, it’s important that state advocates take action. We should make the effort reach out to our local legislators to petition for the lowering of the restraining order age and the creation of a similar “next friend” system for those left unprotected. There may be as many as 50,000 Iowa high school students that could benefit from reforms to the Iowa legal system. Let’s bring our state up to date.

The Importance of Valid Measures of Domestic Violence

October 13th, 2015

spotlightPlease enjoy another guest blog from our AmeriCorps Member, Evan Abramsky – we only have a month and a half left of his term, so please enjoy his thoughts while you can! Thanks for your service, Evan!


This past month, I was referred to several sets of research on intimate partner violence, all of which came to some very surprising and questionable findings. The studies all concluded that bidirectional violence (between both partners) was overwhelmingly the most common form of IPV reported by large samples of couples. Among couples that reported unidirectional violence, women were twice as likely as men to be perpetrators. Immediately, I greeted the findings with skepticism, and upon further review, discovered the researchers’ key flaw across their studies: a failure to validly measure IPV.

In constructing social science research, one of the trickiest projects is creating measures that are both reliable and valid. While the two terms may sound like synonyms, they are actually quite distinct. A reliable measure will record the same responses from an individual each time that individual is measured, without meaningless fluctuations. A valid measure, on the other hand, must actually measure the concept we are attempting to study. For example, if I’m attempting to measure gender and I decide to do so using an individual’s height, I would be using a measure this technically reliable (their height won’t change between measurements), but is completely invalid.

There are many reliable tests and surveys designed to study intimate partner violence, however, they are often invalid measures of the true weight of the violence and this poses serious problems to creating effective IPV policy. For many researchers, it is convenient and reliable to administer a survey of the types of violence employed by abusers in an attempt to understand IPV, which is the basic methodology of surveys like the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), and then use the results to draw conclusions on the frequency of domestic violence in a population. However, such a methodology is not valid, making the results of such a study questionable at best. This can be dangerous for IPV response policy, as it may overstate the relative occurrence of violence among women, while fueling arguments that are counterproductive to our understanding of IPV.

The results of such measures are invalid because they fail to fully grasp the nature of intimate partner violence. IPV is not the simple use of violence against an intimate partner; it is a pattern-based perpetration of coercive control that must be properly contextualized to understand. An isolated incident of a wife throwing a plate in anger, is not intimate partner violence. A husband repeatedly coming home and bombarding his wife with dishes, is. However, a survey like CTS would say that both are so.

It is also extremely important that measures account for more subtle and complicated forms of violence, such as sexual violence and psychological violence. These are often parts of a perpetrator’s pattern of control, depriving the victim of any decent treatment or sense of self-worth. Surveys that neglect to include sexual or psychological violence miss a major aspect of the IPV mechanism of control.

For those working in the intimate partner violence field or directly researching IPV, it is important that we remain vigilant of these distinctions in scientific methodology. It is also important that we apply new measures of violence that attempt to contextualize the frequency, severity, and initiation of IPV. These measures should take  into account the violence’s situational aspects, woman’s history and perception, cultural aspects, and more comprehensive set of demographic factors.

Coercive control patterns are often hidden beneath the surface of seemingly non-violent actions—a glance, the cracking of knuckles, a sharp exhale—and those studying and working with IPV survivors and perpetrators must recognize these for the non-verbal controlling threats they are.

We must always ask the question: is this the whole story?