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Latina Portrait

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The Latina Portrait: Latinas and Sexual Assault focuses on Latina sexual assault survivors, the barriers they face when seeking help, and the culturally appropriate services necessary for the recovery process. The report begins with a history of the anti-sexual violence movement from the perspective of women of color and then moves onto current statistics about sexual assault, examining Latinas’ experience with sexual assault. Statistics about sexual assault and resources for survivors in Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago are highlighted in the report.

Young Latinas

With 36 percent of Latinas in Chicago 17 years and under,[i] young Latinas are not only placed at higher risk for sexual violence, but many are subject to patriarchal attitudes on sexuality and gender relations. Nationally, 8.0% of students in grades 9-12 have been physically forced to have sex, including 11.2% of Latinas in that age group.[ii] Of the 9,423 survivors who received services from ICASA member centers in 2012, 61% were under age 25. Of these young survivors, 21% were Latino.[iii]

The Department of Children and Family Services indicated that 2,072 children were sexually abused in Illinois in 2010 with a total 1,681 girls and 390 boys.[iv] According to this report, most victims were ages 10 to 17 and the majority of the abuse occurred between ages 10 to 13. The DFCS report shows that Whites had the highest percentage of child sexual abuse victims at 59.6 percent, followed by African Americans at 25.9 percent and Latinos/as at 9.8 percent.

Within more conservative Latino households, open communication about sexual matters is not encouraged, especially in the child-parent relationship. It is difficult for implications for the child to disclose the sexual abuse to their parents and to get professional assistance without delay. Most adolescent victims of sexual assault who access services only seek assistance in their adulthood.

Barriers Latinas Face

Spanish monolingual Latinas in the U.S. are usually more isolated because of language barriers and cultural attitudes. Along with an unfamiliarity of legal procedures, many Latinas face additional barriers through negative responses from law enforcement, the legal system, medical personnel, and social services. Racist and discriminatory treatment from institutions, lack of staff that both speak Spanish and are trained in the area of sexual violence, and a lengthy legal process leading to low prosecution of perpetrators are factors that discourage many Latinas from seeking support.

Culturally Appropriate Services for Latinas

Last year, there were 2,660 sexual assault survivors and others receiving services in Cook County. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of Latinos receiving services at ICASA affiliated centers rose from 780 to 1042.[v] The Latino population of Chicago is increasing, and there is a need to increase the presence of culturally sensitive practices to better serve immigrant Latina survivors of sexual assault. Culturally appropriate services for Latinas incorporate cultural orientations, such as the knowledge of Latinos/as’ high regard or respeto for authority, the client’s need to develop a warm personal relationship with the provider, and the use of less personal space between client and provider. The culturally proficient organization also avoids hostile confrontation, includes family members in the treatment, and uses a group approach. Groups offer the possibility of recreating the sense of family, a highly valued structure especially among immigrant Latinas. 

What we can do

We must continue to develop culturally proficient services that best support the diversity of Latina survivors. At the moment, only 14 out of the 31 ICASA centers have a bilingual therapist, counselor, legal advocate, medical advocate, child therapist, case worker, or community educator.

We must:

·         Develop and institutionalize a Latina track in the 40-hour sexual assault training mandated for all rape crisis centers.

·         Hire bilingual/bicultural professionals on both administrative and direct service levels, providing opportunities for leadership development.

·         Partner with universities to expand possibilities for more bilingual/bicultural staff.

·         Train medical and legal advocates to be sensitive to the complex barriers many Latina immigrants encounter.



[i] Instituto del Progreso Latino and Mujeres Latinas en Accion. Trabajando Y Creciendo. Manuscript 2004.

[ii] Center for Disease Control. (2011). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance.

[iii] InfoNet Report Generated by ICJIA

[iv] Department of Children and Families Services. (2010). Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics.

[v] InfoNet Reports


May 14, 2013 | 3:35 PM