This paper highlights the many levels of violence and trauma experienced by migrant women: from the complex, multiple conditions of violence and trauma that can cause people to migrate, to violence at the hands of those assisting movement (smugglers, pirates, and human traffickers), to the impact of separated and unstable families, to gender-based violence. Violence is often experienced with other conditions such as poverty, lack of economic opportunities, and substandard living conditions.

Migrant women (including refugees, legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants) in the U.S. often reside in neighborhoods and communities where violence continues to be pervasive, with similar conditions to those they left, resulting in continuing trauma and re-traumatization. And those that are repatriated/deported often return to the same conditions of violence and trauma that they fled originally.

Migrant women who experience violence and trauma should not be seen merely as “victims” in need of services; they can become self-advocates, and agents for social change. Building and reinforcing individual, family, and community resilience could be one approach for overcoming violence and trauma. A community and systems approach to resilience at a population level would focus on the family, neighborhood, social network, service providers, and government policies that support migrant women both individually and collectively. These would include policies and practices such as expanded educational opportunities for girls and women, access to contraception and reproductive health education and services, independent economic and business opportunities for women, and safe spaces for social support. Finally, these approaches also must include broader and more long-term changes in cultural and social norms that justify, condone, excuse, stigmatize, and cover up violence against women.

These and other potential interventions and solutions should continue to be explored to better understand and be more responsive to the needs of migrant women who have experienced life-long violence and trauma.

The paper was commissioned by the Ford Foundation through a contract with NEO Philanthropy.

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