Boston, United States of America, Oct 15, 2021 (Lusa) – Immigrants who are victims of domestic violence are more afraid to report it and ashamed to speak out, said Portuguese advocate and counselor João Corga, who works with undocumented people in the United States, to Lusa news agency.
“Besides the problem of domestic violence, which is a very serious problem in any country, there is an added problem because we deal above all with recently arrived undocumented immigrants,” said João Corga, victim advocate at the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), which provides social services to the Portuguese, Brazilian and Cape Verdean communities concentrated in the US state of Massachusetts.
The vast majority of our clients and our clients are undocumented, so they have a terrible fear of the police, a terrible fear of ICE” (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), explained João Corga.
As recent immigrants to the US, people “have few friends, they are ashamed to even talk [about domestic violence] with the few friends they have, (…) they don’t know the language, they don’t know how the system works, they don’t know what they are entitled to or not entitled to,” added the Portuguese.
Former judicial officer in Portugal, João Corga, who emigrated to the US in 2017, said that it is up to the MAPS organization to “work” with the victims, “reassure” them, and offer various forms of support and protection, from a shelter, medical help, contacts with the police or referrals to legal services that protect them against the aggressors.
Although the Alliance of Portuguese Speakers in Massachusetts has several “channels of publicity” for services and ways to reach out to victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse – such as community outreach, the internet, and through the “word of mouth” of immigrants – support can only be provided when the request and the first step comes from the person affected.
Confidentiality, a social work maxim that is taken “extremely seriously” at MAPS, continues to be protected when victims decide to take their cases to the police and courts, through Victim Witness Advocates.
Although MAPS does not have lawyers, the organization offers assistance and linguistic and logistical support so that victims can turn to other agencies in the US, such as Northeast Legal Aid, which offers free legal services.
João Corga also said that at the immigration level, the undocumented receive support to apply to the U.S. authorities for the U-visa, for victims of criminal activities, with the “possibility of gaining legal status in the country through the crime of which they were victims.
The Portuguese spoke to Lusa in the month of domestic violence prevention, symbolized by the color purple, a nationwide initiative in the United States.
MAPS Executive Director Paulo Pinto told Lusa that the Portuguese-speaking community in Massachusetts experienced a nearly 60 percent increase in domestic violence cases within a year, related to the covid-19 pandemic.
We’ve had a pretty marked uptick in our domestic violence and sexual assault program. During the month of April  we recorded a 58% increase in the number of cases compared to the month of April 2019,” said Paulo Pinto.
According to a December report sent by the MAPS director to the Lusa agency, the social service organization supported 556 victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse in fiscal year 2020, an increase from the previous period, when 435 survivors were helped.
Of the more than 500 people who suffered from domestic violence or sexual abuse and were referred to MAPS’ services, 360 people were Brazilian, 90 Cape Verdean, 40 Portuguese, and 66 people of other nationalities.
A 51-year-old organization, MAPS works with the Portuguese-speaking communities in the US, providing programs in sexually transmitted disease prevention, testing and treatment, mental health, immigration support to the US, support to senior citizens, or accompaniment and protection to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault.