LatinaLista– Dr. Carlos Cuevas is an assistant professor at Northeastern University in Boston. He’s dedicated his professional life to studying the psychological impact of victimization and trauma, sexual abuse and sex offending and family violence.
Being Latino, he realized that when it came to these areas of study one demographic was under-represented — Latinas. So, along with his colleague Chiara Sabina, Ph.D., co-principal investigator at the School of Behavioral Sciences and Education at Penn State Harrisburg, the two set out to examine the Latina population’s experience with sexual violence and how they get help.
The results of their three-year project are found in their newly released study The Sexual Assault Among Latinas or SALAS.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and while it is intended for service providers, victim advocates, and those working in the criminal justice and mental health systems, it is a report that highlights an issue that many Latino families don’t like to talk about but must be addressed to help victims on their journey of healing.
(Editor’s Note: The following is a condensed version of the full report which is available online.)
The Sexual Assault Among Latinas Study
By Dr. Carlos Cuevas & Chiara Sabina, Ph.D
The Sexual Assault Among Latinas (SALAS) Study was conducted in order to better understand victimization rates, and help-seeking behaviors among Latino women living in the United States. A total of 2,000 Latino women from high-density Latino areas across the United States participated in the study.
About one in six Latino women reported sexual victimization in their lifetime, broken down in the following way:
Completed sexual assault (8.8%)
Attempted sexual assault (8.9%)
Fondling or forced touch (11.4%)
At least one adulthood sexual assault (7.6%)
At least one childhood sexual assault (12.2%)
For these participants, the sexual assault primarily occurred in childhood and was carried out by relatives other than parents (42.6%) or other known person (38.1%). When victimization happened in adulthood, it was most often perpetrated by a partner/spouse (44.1%) or other known person (48.7%). These findings highlight the risk of sexual violence Latino women face in their families and relationships, often at early ages.
Known assailants are the primary perpetrators against Latino women, particularly at early ages. We mistakenly regard home as a safe place–this is not the case for the majority of child sexual abuse victims. Services should be attentive to these dynamics and the difficulties one may face in trying to understand or report sexual abuse at the hands of family members and or other intimates.
Additionally, what we find is that sexual abuse victims are likely to either experience revictimization or polyvictimization. That is to say, victims of sexual abuse are likely to be victimized more than once throughout their lifetimes (i.e., revictimization) and also more likely to be victimized in more than one way (i.e., polyvictimization–for example physically victimized and stalked).
Focusing only on sexual victimization misses how complex victimization can be–occurring in multiple forms during childhood and adulthood, and often continuing from childhood into adulthood.
Immigrant status was associated with a decrease in the likelihood of sexual victimization. In fact, Latinos who adopted an Anglo orientation were at increased risk for victimization. Here we see traditional Latino values may be protective of victimization or that Americanized Latino women may be more willing to report victimization.
Our findings revealed that formal help-seeking was not a common response among the majority of sexual victims; in fact only 1 in 5 victims of sexual violence sought any type of formal help. Formal help-seeking would include seeking medical care, police involvement, social service agency, restraining order, or criminal charges. Medical care was the type of help most often sought among injured sexual assault victims (41%, but note that only 18.4% of women reported physical injury from sexual assault).
Criminal justice responses were seldom used; 6.6% filed criminal charges. Social service agencies, including counselors, domestic violence shelters, and crisis lines were sought by only 10% of sexual victims.
Women were candid about reasons for not seeking social services including:
I didn’t think of it (26.5%)
I didn’t know of any (13.2%)
I wanted to keep the incident private (9%), and
No agency available in my area (7.9%)
More than half of the women who experienced sexual victimization however, did talk about the victimization to informal sources (58.6%). Informal sources included parents, friends/neighbors, siblings, husband/partners, clergy and other family members. Women who did not disclose the incident reported shame (31.8%) as the main reason for keeping the incident to themselves.
Despite these numbers, 41.7% of the sexual victims did not talk to someone about their victimization informally, and 35.5% did not engage in any help-seeking at all, either formal or informal. This shows that a sizeable portion of Latino female victims are not reaching out for help or being identified for services.