By Lucy Panza, DC Policy Intern
Two professors from Penn State and Northeastern University, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, have released the findings of a three-year long study of the rate of sexual and other forms of victimization of Latinas. The Sexual Assault Among Latinas (SALAS) Study sought to fill in the dearth of social science research on Latina victimization specifically. Approximately 1% of the published literature that looks at interpersonal victimization focuses on Latinos, the authors said. And in a nation that is 14% Latino as of 2004, that is unacceptable. As the report states, the goals of SALAS were:
2,000 Latinas were interviewed on the phone by “[t]rained professionals from an experienced survey research firm … in either English or Spanish.” The participants were selected from a randomized list of land-line phone numbers, and they were paid $10 for their participation. Counselors followed up with any participants who suffered emotionally from the interviews, which asked questions from preexisting social science questionnaires that seek to measure various symptoms of victimization like depression or anxiety. The interviewers also asked about whether the participants sought formal or informal help.
Some key findings were: The rate of sexual victimization for the sample was 17.2% (22.2% weighted), while the rate of physical victimization rate was 22.2%, stalking rate was 18.2%, threat rate was 21.1%, and witnessed violence was 20.1%. Approximately 21% of the participants sought one or more types of formal help (most common being medical attention). Criminal justice responses were not commonly sought with only 6.6% of women contacting police, 7.1% obtaining a restraining order, and 6.1% pressing criminal charges. About 10% of participants sought help from a social service agency. In total, 58.3% of women who experienced sexual assault sought informal help (such as talking to a family member or a friend).
The implications of this study for Latinas are enormous, and my initial reaction was that much more research is needed before we can come to some serious conclusions about what service providers, law enforcement, and Hispanic communities could be doing to better support Latinas who survive sexual or other forms of violence. One concern I have, for example, is that the interviews were conducted by land-line telephone, which many low-income and young people do not have in their homes. As a result, the median age and education level of the participants was much higher than in the Latina population as a whole.
Nevertheless, the authors name some interesting conclusions from the study that I think providers, social workers, and advocates can and should internalize. First, a large number of the participants experienced sexual victimization over the course of their lifetimes. Furthermore, as previous research cited by the authors has found, sexual victimization in childhood increased the likelihood of revictimization in adulthood. Consistent with other studies showing under-reporting, sexually victimized participants infrequently engaged in formal help-seeking efforts such as calling police, getting social services, or using legal remedies. Specifically, immigrant participants were less likely to report sexual violence while more assimilated participants were more likely to report.
One important implication that the authors make is that “compartmentalizing services” may be detrimental to survivors. Having separate domestic violence and sexual abuse hotlines, for example, may potentially discourage survivors from getting help. The authors argue that promoting services that are generally focused on interpersonal violence rather than on a particular type of victimization may improve the willingness of victims to come forward.
By Lucy Panza, DC Policy Intern