VAWA Survivor Stories

Since Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with broad bipartisan support in 1994, the reporting rate for domestic violence has increased by 51 percent. Here are some of those survivors' stories.

Mercedes is a lawyer, journalist, and founder of Latinos in Skokie, a network that advances immigrant rights, including access to education, housing, and health care. Mercedes is a domestic violence survivor; her partner, the father of her son, refused to help her obtain lawful status and used her undocumented status as a weapon of abuse. Thanks to protections available under the VAWA, Mercedes left her abuser and secured lawful status. Today, through her organization, Mercedes educates other immigrant women about how to protect themselves from domestic violence.

Silvia is the mother of five children, four of whom are U.S. citizens. Her youngest daughter has cerebral palsy and she works hard to make sure her children have what they need to be safe and happy. She is a survivor of sexual, physical and emotional violence that began when she was a young girl in Guatemala and was assaulted by a family friend, and continued in the United States when she found herself in an abusive relationship. Silvia met her ex-boyfriend when she worked at a restaurant in Illinois. Soon after the couple moved in together, the man became emotionally abusive. Silvia did not want to live with him anymore but she was only 16 and did not think she had other options. After Silvia became pregnant, the man became physically abusive. He would push her around and throw things. He wouldn’t let her talk to other people, and kept her locked in the apartment. The abuse continued after she gave birth. One night, Silvia stood up to her abuser, ran away, and called the police. More than 10 years later, Silvia now is happily married to a respectful man. She did not know about the Violence Against Women Act until recently, when her family encountered Immigration and Customs Enforcement and she faced the potential of being deported to Guatemala and leaving behind her children and the life she has built in the United States. She is now applying for protection under VAWA, and hopes that Congress upholds the law so that she and other women have the opportunity to live a secure life free from violence.

Erika came to the United States with her parents when she was six years old. She has lived in fear for most of her adult life because of her ex-husband.  The couple met as high school freshmen in Chicago. After the couple married, Erika’s husband began to assault her.  He would lock Erika in the house all day when he was at work, even when she was the caretaker for their infant son.  When her husband was deployed to Iraq, he opened a separate bank account and denied Erika access to the couple’s income. Because Erika was undocumented, she could not work to earn money to feed her children and relied on her parents to buy food.  The abuse continued when Erika’s husband returned home, and eventually Erika reached out for help and left the relationship. Erika says, “I would have lived in fear my whole life without protection under the Violence Against Women Act.” Erika now has lawful status and a job as an office manager.  “I am not afraid that my ex-husband will take my children away from me or have me deported, as he threatened to do before,” she says. “I have high hopes for the future.  I want to go back to school to study culinary arts, and because of VAWA, I can reach for that goal.”