Safer ended October —Domestic Violence Awareness Month — with a panel discussion about immigrants’ experiences with domestic violence.

On Oct. 27, representatives from Respect, Inspire, Support and Empower (RISE), the University Police Department (UPD), the San Luis Obispo District attorney’s office and an immigration lawyer headed a four-person panel about undocumented immigrants. The panel discussed topics ranging from what it takes to become a U.S. citizen to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

“We need to start talking about marginalized communities more and their unique experiences and experiencing the type of violence we are talking about,”Safer coordinator Kara Samaniego said. “I had attended undocumented students working group ally training and gone through that process. It really sparked my thinking that we aren’t really addressing this and these particular populations on campus.”

At Cal Poly, there are more than 200 undocumented students. During the panel, Client Services Director of RISE Matias Bernal said there may be more but people are hesitant to come out due to stigmas. Though the population is small, Samaniego said the issue of violence is much higher in this group compared to the rest of Cal Poly.

“I think it’s pretty simple,” Samaniego said. “These populations experience gender-based violence whether that is domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault, they experience it at higher rates than the average population.”

According to the National Latino Network, a national institute that focuses on domestic violence in Latino communities, one in three Hispanic women experience domestic violence. On the other hand, the National Domestic Violence Hotline says, nationally, one in four women experience domestic violence. Despite this statistic, Los Osos immigration lawyer Amber Heffner said there are many options available for undocumented immigrants.

“If you’re a victim of a crime there’s something called  a U Visa for victims of domestic violence if they report the crime to law enforcement and cooperate with the investigation,” Heffner said. “There are laws in place that recognize domestic violence and other crimes [that] do happen in the immigrant community.”

About 20 people attended the panel to learn more about the immigrant community. 

“I learned a lot from this presentation today,”Wine and viticulture senior Nick Paiva said. “The people who are perpetrators of domestic violence have a hold on these people who are immigrants. They can manipulate and treat them in such a way where they believe that they don’t have anyone there for them.”

There are multiple programs that can help undocumented students and victims of domestic violence at Cal Poly and in San Luis Obispo. These include the Rising Immigrant Student for Education program that helps undocumented students adjust to the university and RISE, an off-campus center for those who are victims of domestic violence. 

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