What is Domestic Violence?immigrant woman

If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call Saheli’s helpline at 1-800-4SAHELI, or visit our resource directory here for organizations, hotlines and further information.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control through fear and intimidation, often including the threat of use of violence. The controlling partner believes they are entitled to control the spouse.

Historically, in many cultures including those of the South Asian Sub-Continent, domestic violence has been an accepted fact. Today, in many traditional South Asian homes it is considered the  “duty” of the wife to keep the marriage and family intact despite abuse. You have the right to know that abuse of any kind is not okay! You have the right to be free of abuse. Even if you are not a legal citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you have the right to call the police, use medical and mental health services, and to seek a restraining order against your abuser.

Are you in an abusive situation? 

Do you…

  • Spend time watching your partner before speaking
  • Doubt your judgment or think you are crazy
  • Fear your partner or fear that nobody will believe you?
  • Feel depressed, trapped and powerless
  • Constantly make excuses for your partner’s behavior and believe that you can help him change if only you changed something about yourself?


Does your husband, family member, or partner do any of the following?

  • Make you feel like you are unable to make decisions?
  • Put down your goals and accomplishments?
  • Deny access to family bank accounts, cars, credit cards and control all the money in the family, including what you earn?
  • Control you activities, preventing you from meeting friends and family, or socializing?
  • Check up on you constantly?
  • Threaten you with deportation or abandonment?
  • Insult and humiliate you in private or public?
  • Encourage other family members to mistreat you or use you like a servant?
  • Become jealous and accuse you of having affairs?
  • Provoke you into having arguments?
  • Abuse and humiliate your children and then blame  you?
  • Pressure you sexually for things you aren’t ready for or willing to do?
  • Treat you roughly – grab, push, pinch, shove, kick or hit you?
  • Threaten you with dangerous weapon?

If any of these are happening in your relationship, you need to talk to someone. Without help, the abuse will continue.  Call the Saheli helpline at 866-472-4354 and talk to an advocate.

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Types of Domestic ViolenceDo whatever you want

Domestic Violence is not just a term applied to physical violence towards a partner/wife. Domestic violence includes physically, sexually, psychologically and financially abusive behaviors by one partner against another. Generally, when one form of abuse exists, it is coupled with other forms as well. Domestic violence does not affect people of a certain race, age, gender or background. It knows no ethnic, cultural or personal borders, it can affect anyone, it can affect you and your family.

Domestic violence may also be defined by identifying its function, that being the domination, punishment or control of one’s partner. Abusers use:


  • limiting a spouse’s outside activities and interactions with friends or family
  • embarrassing or humiliating them in front of others
  • expecting another to report every move and activity
  • restricting use of the car or telephone

Emotional Abuse

  • putting another down/name-calling
  • ignoring or discounting activities and accomplishments
  • withholding approval or affection
  • making another feel as if they are crazy in public or private through humiliation
  • unreasonable jealousy and suspicion

Sexual Abuse

  • sex on demand or sexual withholding
  • physical assaults during sexual intercourse
  • spousal rape, non-consensual, forced sex
  • sexually degrading language
  • denying reproductive freedom (refusing to use contraceptives, denying or forcing an abortion)

Physical Abuse

  • biting/scratching
  • slapping/punching
  • kicking/stomping
  • throwing objects at another
  • shoving another down steps or into objects
  • assaults with weapons such as knives/guns/other objects
  • locking another in a closet or other confined space
  • deprivation of heat, food, water, clothing

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse is the use or misuse, without the partner’s freely given consent, of the financial or other monetary resources of the partner or of the partnership.

  • Denying access to cash, credit cards or checks
  • Denying access to information about finances
  • Prohibiting a spouse from opening a bank account, even if it’s with her own money

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DepressedHealthy versus Abusive Relationships

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you are in a healthy relationship or an abusive one.  We receive many mixed messages from our family and friends. South Asian traditions tell women to do their “duty” towards husbands, sons and in-laws. Besides, all couples fight occasionally. How do you know what is part of a normal relationship and what is abuse?

In Healthy Relationships: there is partnership, communication, economic equality, respect, physical safety, and support and trust.  

  • You feel SAFE  and comfortable with each other
  • Communication is open – you listen to each other and decide issues together
  • You express feeling without fear of your partner’s reactions
  • Rules/boundaries are defined yet there is flexibility to change as needed
  • Both have meaningful relationships and hobbies outside the marriage
  • You DO NOT try to CHANGE or CONTROL your partner
  • You can say “no” WITHOUT fear or guilt
  • Each partner is responsible for his or her own actions
  • Each partner can enjoy being alone and privacy is RESPECTED

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Domestic Violence Victim’s Bill of Rights

If you have been subjected, by your husband or family member, to any of  the abusive actions listed on earlier pages: Know that there is noting wrong with you and you are not alone – You do not have to suffer in silence to be  a good wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister or friend. Violence does not end without help, in fact, it becomes worse and occurs more often.

Continuing to live in an abusive situation is not good for you or your children. Your immigration status does not depend on staying with your husband. You should also be aware of your rights:

  • You have the right NOT to be abused.
  • You have the right to be angry about past abuse/beatings
  • You have a right to choose to change the situation
  • You have a right to freedom from fear and abuse
  • You have the right to safety and independence
  • You have a right to leave the battering environment
  • You have a right express your own thoughts and be treated like a adult
  • You have a right to share you feelings with others and not be isolated
  • You have the right to say no to sex, even with your husband
  • You have the right to request and expect assistance from the police and social agencies.

Facts about domestic violence:

  • Domestic violence is a crime regardless of your immigration status
  • Authorities WILL enforce laws on behalf of illegal/undocumented immigrants
  • Legal protections like restraining orders are available to all victims of domestic regardless of their immigrant status
  • While it’s not easy, it is possible to get political asylum in the United States as a survivor of domestic violence.

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Safety Planning

Whether you decide to stay or leave your relationship is your decision. You are your own best friend. However, you should begin to empower yourself by bringing about a change in your relationship if possible, without endangering yourself or your children. One of the first steps you can take is to put together a Safety Plan as follows:

  • Create “safe places” in your house where you can go in case of escalating physical danger. For example, you could lock yourself in a bathroom, bedroom, closet or basement- as long as you have access to an escape route and/or mobile phone.
  • Make copies of your important documents such as passports, visas, children’s birth certificates, etc., and keep them somewhere safe (outside of the house)
  • Keep a fully-charged mobile phone with 911 pre-programmed into it
  • Report all incidents of abuse to the local police so that there is a legal record and paper trail
  • Keep your own record of abusive events with dates when they occurred  in a safe place
  • Take pictures of any bruises or cuts inflicted by your partner
  • Get to know local police precincts and hospitals in the area
  • Plan and practice an escape route out of the home
  • Prepare the children to respond to a batterer who comes to their school or to childcare facilities.
  • Empower yourself by talking to friends/family about what is happening
  • Join a support group where you can confidentially discuss your situation with others who’ve gone through similar experiences
  • Contact an anti-domestic violence agency from a safe place and talk to an advocate
  • Keep a bag packed and hidden in a safe place at home (or locked in a car trunk with only one key), or with a safe relative or friend, in case of the need to flee. The bag should include:    
    • Emergency cash, ideally enough to survive on for a month
    • Clothing for you and your children
    • Copies of important documents such as passports, identification cards, marriage certificates, court documents, social security card, driver’s license, welfare identification, family photographs, birth certificates for you and your children, school and medical records, work permits, green card, apartment lease, mortgage payments, insurance papers, important telephone numbers, evidence that you lived together with your spouse (utilities bills, leases, etc.)
    • Check book
    • Necessary prescription medicines
    • Credit card
    • Copies of house and car keys

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What happens when you call the Police

If you are in a position of immediate danger and your partner is attempting to cause or causing physical harm, or you are in fear of imminent physical harm call 911.

The following is a response to questions that victims whose immigration status is insecure may have:

Can I call the police if I am being abused and do not know my immigration status?

Yes. Call 911 in case of an emergency, no matter what. Domestic violence is a crime regardless of your legal status. You have the legal right to keep your immigration status private. You do not have to tell the police, or a shelter about your immigration status.

Will Immigration Services be called if I call the police?

The police will not contact Immigration Services if you are calling to report domestic violence. You, as victim, may have been told by your spouse that the police will not enforce laws on your behalf if you are undocumented – this is not true. You may have been told that legal protections like restraining order are not available to you – be assured that they are.

What will happen if I call 911?

The police will  come to the place from where the call was made. Most police departments respond quickly to calls of domestic violence. The first thing they do is make sure no further injury/abuse occurs. They will gather facts by talking to anyone who was a part of the incident or witnessed it. They will also look for ‘physical evidence” such as bruises, torn clothing, broken dishes/furniture blood, etc. They will decide if a crime has been committed and if an arrest needs to be made. Even if you hang up the phone before giving your address, the police will still come to your address to see if you are all right.

Be Aware of Your Rights as follows:

If you are in need of medical treatment, you have the right to request that the police officer drive you to the nearest hospital or otherwise assist you in getting medical treatment.

If you think that you need police protection in order to stay physically safe, you have the right to request the  officer present remain with you at the scene until you and your children can leave or until you feel safe.

You can ask the officer to assist you in finding and taking you to a safe place – a shelter, or the home of a friend/family member or anywhere else you feel safe.

You can and should request a copy of the police incident report from the department and keep it with other documents in a safe place.

You can appear at the Superior, Probate and Family, District or Municipal court where you live to file a complaint and request a restraining order.

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Restraining Orders

 (209A Abuse Prevention Orders)

If you do not feel safe, you may apply for a restraining order at District Court (or through the local police if the Court is closed) to help protect yourself and your family from:

 “family or household members” that have abused you.

You can only get a restraining order if the abuser is:

  • A person to whom you are or were married
  • A person you are or were in a dating or engagement relationship
  • A person you haven’t been married to but are or were related to by blood or marriage (for example, cousin, brother-in-law, brother
  • A person with whom you have had a child, regardless of whether you have ever been married or lived together
  • A person you are not related to currently but are or formerly were members of the same household

Restraining Orders may be customized to include (but are not limited to);

  • An order not to commit further abuse
  • A “no contact”, stay-away order (from home, work, and/or school)
  • A vacate order to leave a shared residence
  • An order directing your attacker to pay you for losses suffered as a result of the abuse, including medical and moving expenses, cost for restoring utilities and replacing lock, and other out-of-pocket losses for injuries and property damage sustained.



Saheli advocates can help you to get a restraining order. Call Saheli at 866-472-4354  or an advocate at any shelter or anti-domestic violence agency for help and more information

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Immigration Law and Domestic Violence

  • There are immigration laws that can help you escape violence and get legal immigration status even if:
  • You are being abused by your U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (“green card”) spouse, parent, or child (over 21)
  • Your child is being abused by his or her U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (“green card”) parent
  • You are undocumented or without legal immigration status

If these immigration laws apply to you, you can get legal status without help from your battering spouse or parent.

Listed below is a list of things you should or should not do in order to try and obtain legal status

What Not To Do

  • Do not discuss your immigrant status with anyone except your attorney or the advocate who is helping you at a shelter/domestic violence agency
  • You should not go to the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS – formerly the INS) alone, even to ask for information. If you receive a notice to go to CIS for an interview or a hearing, speak to an advocate or attorney immediately.
  • You should not, under any circumstances, file any papers at the CIS without first discussing your case with an advocate or attorney.
  • You should not get divorced until you have spoken to an immigration attorney. If you or your spouse have already started divorce proceedings, call immediately.
  • You should not keep your documents where your batterer may find them.

What You Can Do

  • You should get help from a battered women’s program or legal services or consult with a Saheli advocate. They can help you figure out your options.
  • You should find any and all documents that will support your case, particularly documents mentioned above that can prove you lived together with your spouse (apartment leases, joint utility bills sent to your address, marriage certificate, etc.)
  • Proof of abuse such as restraining or civil protection order, police reports, medical records, letter, from a battered women’s program, photos of injuries/bruises
  • Evidence of “good moral character” such proof that you have no criminal record, a letter from your religious institution
  • You must provide a written affidavit describing the history of your relationship with abuser.

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