Latinos in Los Angeles are making dramatically fewer reports of rape and domestic violence amid a climate of fear over increased immigration enforcement, according to the city’s Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Since the beginning of 2017, reports of rape among the city’s Latino population have declined by 25 percent, compared to the same period last year. Domestic violence reports have dropped nearly 10 percent. According to statistics provided by the Los Angeles Police Department, no other ethnic group experienced a comparable decrease.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Beck said there was a “strong correlation” between the Trump administration’s new immigration rules, which empower federal agents to more aggressively deport those without documentation regardless of whether they’ve committed a serious crime, and the deflated numbers.
“Imagine a young woman—imagine your daughter, sister, mother, your friend—not reporting a sexual assault because they are afraid that their family will be torn apart,” he said during an appearance with Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The Pew Research Center estimates that the Los Angeles metro area has one million undocumented immigrants, more than any other area in the country except New York. In a press release, the LAPD cautioned that while “there is no direct evidence that the decline is related to concerns within the Hispanic community regarding immigration, the department believes deportation fears may be preventing Hispanic members of the community from reporting when they are victimized.”
The statement echoes what advocates and criminal justice experts have long been warning ― that Trump’s immigration crackdown may erode trust between immigrants and law enforcement, with devastating consequences.
“We have entire communities of people feeling like it’s no longer safe or feasible for them to report crime,” said Jacquie Marroquin, director of programs for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.
She said local domestic violence organizations in Los Angeles have been flooded with calls and emails since Trump’s immigration policies were announced, spiking after an undocumented woman was arrested while seeking a domestic violence protective order. The woman now faces up to 10 years in prison.
““When folks don’t feel like they can come forward and bring these issues into the light, it forces them to remain in harmful situations.””
Victims who are undocumented may not feel like they can go to police or appear in court without running the risk of deportation, she said. That means that traditional routes to safety ― filing for a protection order, pursuing criminal charges ― are now out of reach.
“We have heard of cases of survivors dropping cases all together,” Marroquin said. “Survivors are more concerned about their safety from ICE and law enforcement than their safety from the person who is hurting them.”
She gave an example of an undocumented domestic violence victim in LA who has a protective order against her abuser, but is now too afraid to report violations to police, putting her in extreme danger. Another victim expressed fear at having to go to the police department to pick up her toddler as part as her child custody agreement.
“They are reading about ICE hanging out in courthouses,” she said. “That sends a chilling effect to survivors who are thinking about going to the courts to seek relief.”
If victims and witnesses are too scared to cooperate in criminal investigations, it can make it hard for prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable ― placing entire communities at risk. In Denver, City Attorney Kristin Bronson said that four cases involving domestic violence were dropped as victims were afraid of being arrested if they testified.
“Domestic violence, sexual violence, abuse exist in the shadows,” Marroquin said. “When folks don’t feel like they can come forward and bring these issues into the light, it forces them to remain in harmful situations.”
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
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