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Immigrant and Refugee Communities

Prevention Strategies for Immigrant and Refugee Communities

Culturally appropriate terminology
No matter what type of outreach or in what immigrant community, it is important that rape crisis centers collaborate with key members of the immigrant community to determine culturally appropriate terminology regarding sexual violence. Rape or sexual assault may not be words that exist in some languages. Finding the correct terminology for sexual violence will improve reception in the community and make communication easier. The concept of sexual violence is approached in multiple ways by different cultures. There is no correct approach and rape crisis center staff must work closely with members of the community to determine what terms are appropriate, otherwise outreach efforts will be completely ineffective. Outreach efforts can then be tailored to individual communities. For example, having a sexual assault survivor support group for members of a particular community may not work because the stigma associated with the issue would deter people from attending. Organizing a cooking group or a craft circle that focuses on sexual violence issues may be more effective. Another example is “personal safety” rather than “self-defense” classes. The term “self-defense” may not be culturally appropriate in some communities. Thus, it is important for rape crisis centers to learn about the communities where they want to do outreach from members of the communities themselves.

Migrant Farmworkers
Migrant Farmworkers often have specific healthcare programs that target their communities because of the isolated and transitional nature of these programs. Contacting local agencies such as these that are already connected to the migrant farmworker is a good way to provide rape prevention education. It is likely that these presentations will require Spanish or other language skills, or it may be possible to work with health care providers to provide translation. Including in your rape prevention curriculum recognition of cultural values and the challenges faced by migrant farmworkers will help the presentation to be accepted. Be sure to include information about legal rights and relief for battered immigrants and survivors of sexual assault.

Refugee and Immigrant Service Agencies
There are many service agencies that work directly with assisting new refugees and immigrants. They often provide English classes, case management, life skills courses, or other programs designed to help new immigrants become integrated to their new communities. Rape crisis centers can partner with these agencies to provide information to new immigrants about rape prevention in a special session or series. Rape crisis centers can assist these agencies in including rape prevention in their orientation activities. Refugee and immigrant service agencies also have expert knowledge about cultural issues surrounding immigration and refugees that can be shared with rape crisis center staff and volunteers at a human relations on-going training.

Immigration Attorneys and Legal Assistance Centers
Contacting qualified immigration attorneys is a necessary component of working with any survivor of sexual assault whose immigration documentation is not legal. Rape crisis centers should work proactively to contact such attorneys and legal assistance programs in their community to share information about rape prevention and the rights of survivors of seuxal assault. Contacting these attorneys will also help rape crisis centers determine appropriate referral listings for their rape crisis counselors and advocates.

As part of the rape prevention presentations already being provided in your community’s schools, include information about the legal relief available for survivors of sexual assault without documentation. Students in the class may either be undocumented themselves or know someone who can benefit from this information. Educating the community about these issues will help to raise awareness and encourage survivors to contact rape crisis centers. Information in this packet also dispels some of the myths and stereotypes about immigrants and refugees that may surface in a school setting. Presenting this information in an interactive way will change attitudes, and lead to a community more accepting and supportive of immigrants and refugees.

Self-defense is an excellent tool of empowerment. It offers skills in awareness, assertiveness, and physical techniques that can prevent sexual violence. Discussing with self-defense participants what their cultural beliefs are about self-defense and sharing the women’s empowerment model will help to identify any differences that may arise. Encourage participants to provide alternative solutions to such issues, perhaps using body language to strongly “confront” potential attackers. Discuss such issues in class and the participants’ motivations for attending, this exercise will help to create a safe place for participants to learn and grow together.

English as a Second Language
Many new immigrants and refugees are interested in learning English. Some centers have had success in offering English as a Second language (ESL) classes at their centers. Along with fundamental English language skills, rape crisis centers can provide lessons on sexual violence terminology and rape prevention. ESL classes may also be offered at other community agencies. Rape crisis centers can partner with these classes to provide a lesson on rape prevention.

Identifying Key Community Leaders
As with any community a rape crisis center works with, identifying and collaborating with key leaders will provide multiple benefits. In the immigrant and refugee community, this may be a long-time resident of the United States or someone who was a leader in their home country. This key leader provides mentoring and guidance to newcomers. Developing an ally relationship with such a leader will help rape crisis centers gain credibility in the community. It will also provide insight and knowledge to the rape crisis centers about cultural competency in a particular community. These leaders can help rape crisis centers access community meetings to speak about their services and the legal rights of sexual assault survivors.

Cultural Competency
Creating cultural competency with immigrant and refugee communities can be a daunting task considering the diversity of cultures involved. However, it is an effort that will provide improved services to survivors in many ways. The best way to begin this process is to make contact with key leaders within the community. Perhaps there is a member of this community already active in your rape crisis center. Once a connection has been made, learn as much as possible about the community. As rape crisis centers build partnerships and gather information from agencies already serving immigrants and refugees, invite representatives to share their experiences at human relations ongoing trainings and other events. Solicit suggestions from key leaders about how to make services culturally competent and accessible to different groups.

Media Outlets
Many communities have media sources that are specific to their language and community. Local cable access, newspapers, and radio have multilingual programming the reaches immigrants and refugees. Be proactive and contact these media agencies with public service announcements and information about your agency and events, in addition to responding to specific requests from the media.

Faith Community
Many immigrant and refugee communities continue to participate in the faith community of their country of origin. Churches, temples, and mosque often have ingoing groups for members that invite speakers on various topics. Contacting local faith leaders with information about your agency and sharing them with importance of rape prevention education will build trust over time. Many immigrants and refugees also receive various social services through the faith community that can be a primary point of outreach.

Unions and Workers Rights Organizations
Many unions and workers rights organizations focus on immigrants and their rights. Rape crisis centers can inform this process by discussing the rights of workers to a violence and harassment-free workplace. Contact local unions and workers rights organizations to see if they have an initiative aimed at persons without documentation. United Farmworkers, for example, has been an active association in improving the lives of migrant farmworkers for decades. Organizations like these could be powerful partners in spreading the rape prevention message.

Opportunities to Share Cultural Experiences
Recent immigrants and refugees are usually struggling with acculturation to American culture. During that process, immigrants and refugees can feel that the wider community does not value their culture of origin. Rape crisis centers can sponsor events (i.e. community fairs, potlucks, or picnics) in which immigrant and refugee communities can present crafts, foods, and information about their culture of origin. Not only will these events validate the experiences of immigrants and refugees and encourage partnerships with these communities, they will increase the cultural competency of rape crisis center staff.

Spread the Word
Distribute rape crisis center brochures and materials in as many languages as possible to strategic points of contact with refugees and immigrants. Border patrol stations, refugee service agencies, legal aid assistance centers, immigration attorneys, consulates, and migrant farmworker agencies are all excellent places to reach immigrants and refugees with your center’s services and rape prevention message.