#SignalForHelp, Violence at home, domestic violence sign, NYC help for DV survivors, immigrant survivors
#SignalForHelp — The Signal for Help, created by The Canadian Women’s Foundation, is a nonverbal hand signal that provides a way to discreetly communicate when someone needs help. Illustration via worldbank.org
By: Commissioner Cecile Noel and Commissioner Manuel Castro

Too often, survivors of sexual violence fear coming forward about their experiences. This can be even more difficult when the survivor is undocumented or has another limited immigration status. 

This April, for Sexual Violence Awareness month, our offices unite to raise awareness about sexual violence, prevention, and uplift the services available for all survivors no matter their immigration status. 

Sexual violence impacts people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, languages, and religions. For immigrant survivors, we recognize that this often intersects with a multitude of other types of violence, including labor trafficking and exploitation. Sexual violence takes many forms and includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and street harassment. These can be isolated incidents or can include ongoing sexual violence committed by individuals known to the survivors, including intimate partners, family members, community members, or employers. 

Further, immigrant survivors of sexual violence, especially those who are undocumented, may also be fearful to come forward due to their immigration status, sometimes causing them to not report incidents of abuse or to seek help and care. 

If you are a victim of certain serious crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, you may also be able to get a U visa or a T visa. These are special visas for immigrant survivors who report crimes.

Even if you are undocumented, we want to remind you that you have rights. The Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) work hand in hand to empower and support immigrant survivors and connect them to the necessary resources. Below we highlight a few resources available to survivors. 

ENDGBV manages NYC Family Justice Centers (FJCs) located in each of the five boroughs. Family Justice Centers offer victims and survivors confidential help in the language they speak, no matter their immigration status. FJCs can help survivors:

  • Plan for your safety;
  • Apply for public benefits;
  • Connect to mental health and counseling services;
  • Get legal help, including orders of protection and immigration legal services; 
  • And so much more.

In 2021, FJCs served clients from 113 different countries and provided services in 65 different languages across the five boroughs. But we know that we must also serve survivors in their communities. FJCs are expanding services and provider partnerships to better serve survivors within their community, in their preferred language, and in spaces outside of and, or disconnected from legal systems. In partnership with community-based organizations across the city, ENDGBV ensures that immigrant survivors are connected to culturally competent and trauma-informed programs. These organizations meet survivors where they are and empower them to make the decisions that are best for them. 

MOIA and ENDGBV also work together to ensure immigrant survivors can access critical legal services needed for safety and protection. If you are an undocumented immigrant who is a victim of crime, you are protected by New York City’s confidentiality policy. This means that you may report the crime to the NYC Police Department without fear of being investigated for your immigration status. NYC is a welcoming city and our police department will never ask victims of crime about their immigration status.

Additionally, if you are a victim of certain serious crimes, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, you may also be able to get a U visa or a T visa. These are special visas for immigrant survivors who report crimes. U and T Visas can provide work authorization and a potential pathway to legal permanent residence (a “green card”). MOIA and ENDGBV work together to help ensure that immigrant survivors get the help they need to apply for U or T Visas. Survivors can learn more by visiting here

The safety and wellbeing of immigrant communities, including those who have experienced sexual violence remains our top priority. If you, or someone you know, is seeking support regarding sexual violence, free and confidential help is always available. Find resources and support in NYC by searching the NYCHope Resource Directory, or call 311 to be connected to the nearest NYC Family Justice Center.  You are not alone, you are never alone, and help is here for you.

Cecile Noel is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, and Manuel Castro is the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

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