On Supporting Immigrants Who've Been Sexually Assaulted

For the past two years I’ve become outspoken about being sexually abused as a child. I also lived undocumented for 19 years. While both, undocumented and victim/survivor, aren’t identities I carry with me, they’re realities that have impacted me. Sometimes, support from other immigrants isn’t where it should be.

I’ve been in spaces where jokes are made about abuse, violence, and rape by people who are so on point about immigrant rights issues. I’ve been in spaces where victim/survivors have been questioned about their assault stories from other immigrants. What were the details of the abuse? What *actually* happened? Details. Details. Details.

It’s heartbreaking, especially from others who truly understand what it means to carry such a big secret. What it means to be undocumented and keep that to yourself. That sometimes silence is the best way of coping. Sometimes, silence is safe. Silence is best.

Details are draining. They make me feel like you don’t believe me. Like you need a play by play of what happened in order to determine if it was actually abuse or not. It’s for ~you~ to determine if the abuse was “as bad as you say it is”. Details don’t make the abuse disappear. Speaking it out loud can be powerful for some but detrimental to others. What was done to me is not a reality show for you to consume.

Now that I have a U Non-immigrant Visa as a direct result of what was done to me, I’m at a place where my immigration status and victim/survivor status connect. When I first received my acceptance letter, everyone around me celebrated this as if I had just won the noble peace prize. Very few stopped to think about what it must be like to only be eligible for a visa for being abused. About what it means to look at these immigration papers and be reminded that I was in fact a victim/survivor. What it means to fight and fight for immigrant rights in a country that defines your worth through crimes and pain. Very few stopped to ask me how the application process was and how I was doing emotionally. Very few stopped to think about the emptiness that comes with receiving papers as a consequence of your abuser’s actions. I wrote about it here.

Still, I was called dramatic, selfish, and ungrateful. Many speculated I made up the abuse to qualify for a U Non-immigrant Visa and adjust my status. Others made jokes about me and this visa behind my back, minimized my experiences, and suggested I leave the immigrant rights movement now that I “was okay”…summarizing me to immigration status only. I hope to exist in a world/movement where humanity and community isn’t measured through immigration papers. 

Still, i was told to be “thankful” for this immigration status change and that I was “lucky” for such an opportunity. I should be thankful that I was lucky enough to have been sexually abused? And for my friends who were abused abroad (and therefore not eligible for a U-Visa), you mean I’m lucky I was abused in the USA? At the right time in the right place. 

What have we internalized that experiencing violence now becomes a marker of luck? success? A reason to celebrate?

I wouldn’t want anyone to be sexually abused. I could never articulate how life-ruining it is. I would also never hope for someone to be undocumented. Similarly, It’s a frustrating and many times unbearable experience.

I’ve been in spaces where others who were also victim/survivors of crimes were disappointed they weren’t eligible to a path for citizenship, rather than being disappointed they were hurt in that way.

This system has taught us that there are specific measurements of worth to the point that we get mad we weren’t abused correctly to be eligible for something. To the point where we wish it were us that was hurt. We’ve internalized it all. The pain the stigma the standards of worth the measurements of success. We repeat reuse recycle hurtful messages and hurtful treatment of others. 

When we become stuck on obtaining immigration papers at all cost, we lack empathetic understanding of multidimensional identities, experiences, and the impact of both. This isn’t always our fault. We’ve been raised to believe these papers are everything. So much so that violence is welcomed. Because in a country that constantly dehumanizes you and your community, what is another act of violence? 

I hope we will allow ourselves to grow, learn, and become better towards each other. Because right now, we are all we have. Where will we go and what will we do if the few spaces where community actually exist also become violent and un-supportive?