Barriers to Reporting in Spanish-Speaking Communities

Hispanic Heritage Month starts September 15 and is a time to honor more than 40 million people who are part of the Latinx community in the U.S. This month, RAINN is taking a look at challenges to reporting sexual assault and harassment that members of these communities may face.

One of the largest barriers to getting support often has to do with language. Discussing sexual assault is always difficult, so being able to talk about it in one’s first language may make the reporting process easier. Addressing sensitive and personal topics with victim advocates, law enforcement, and medical professionals can be especially intimidating without access to a translator or someone who can provide support in one’s first language.

Even if a survivor’s first language is English, they still may be less likely to report sexual assault to their school, work, or local law enforcement due to a lack of culturally competent care. “The Latinx community may avoid service providers that do not understand issues of personal space, privacy, shame/stigma in someone’s culture of origin, or use racially/culturally insensitive phrases to describe them,” says Keeli Sorensen, vice president of victim services at RAINN.

There may be additional issues for immigrant communities in the U.S. For instance, some individuals may not identify what they are experiencing as a crime because the laws in their country of origin may be different, or they may not see what has happened to them as equivalent to traumas they have witnessed family and friends go through. “Worries about immigration status often put individuals in a position of not feeling that they can report sexual assault and abuse for fear of retaliation or deportation,” says Leidy Londoño, program manager of the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

“Depending on previous personal and familial experiences, folks in these communities may feel distrust of criminal justice institutions or those who could make a report to the police,” says Jessica Leslie, program director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline. “Personal immigration status can exacerbate this distrust.”

Since RAINN launched Spanish-language services on the Online Hotline in 2015, Spanish-speaking survivors of sexual assault—and their family and friends—have had access to anonymous support services as well as information about care, service providers, and the reporting process. In addition to the hotline, RAINN also offers a tool that allows users to search by state to identify Spanish-language sexual assault service providers near them.

RAINN is expanding the information available to survivors of sexual violence and loved ones in Spanish on its website. Find the full list of articles at rainn.org/es.

Note: Merriam-Webster defines “Latinx” as “a gender-neutral word for people of Latin American descent.”

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