The little girl sat on her mother’s lap as her mother pulled up her favourite cartoon on her phone.
“Por favor,” she said to her daughter as she placed the phone in front of her.
The kid is three. She wore a glittery hairpin and clasped a pink water bottle. Soon, she was engrossed in the screen with a tiny frown.
When her mum became pregnant with her, she had only known her now-husband for a month. They met on Tinder, she says.
“And he said, I want to have a family,” said the woman, who asked for anonymity because she still shares a home with her husband.
He was loving and said he wanted something serious even though they barely knew each other, she says.
The guy would show up to her doctor appointments and offer lots of support. “It was too good to be true,” said the woman on Saturday, smiling.
Her pregnancy stretched into the early months of the pandemic and lockdowns. That’s when she noticed her partner’s drinking problem, she says.
She would wake up to empty beer cans and whiskey bottles stacked up on their coffee table, the woman says.
Once she complained, she says, he withdrew his love. He began asking her to chip in for the rent, she says, though she was out of work and pregnant.
“He was telling me, ‘You’re living in my house for free,’” she says.
He hit her once, she says, but it was mostly verbal and emotional abuse. “I didn’t have anybody here,” says the woman, who is Latina.
Now she has a protection order against him that she renews every six months, she says. While they’re valid, she says, her husband behaves.
But it took her a long time to muster the bravery to tell others about what was happening to her, the woman says.
Latina Women Against Violence, a group formed by Latin American women to support other Hispanic women in Ireland who are seeking respite from gender-based violence, is one place that gave her the confidence to speak up, she says.
Gabriela Burnett, coordinator and one of the co-founders, says immigration problems and language barriers make it harder for migrant women facing gender-based violence to get support – and they’re trying to bridge the gaps.
“We realised we almost couldn’t find any information in our language,” she says.
Two years ago, Burnett, who is also the president of the Association of Bolivian Residents in Ireland, noticed how often in this role she was coming across cases of domestic abuse and gender-based violence.
“During the pandemic, we had more cases, like really, and we realised that we didn’t know where to go and what to do,” said Burnett during a Zoom call on Friday.
Women with precarious immigration statuses or those who had lost their immigration statuses as a result of domestic violence were especially impacted, she says.
And there was a dearth of information in Spanish on what to do, how to get help, says Burnett
Through the Association of Bolivian Residents, she and others tried to put out some information in their first tongue. But it wasn’t easy.
“Because we didn’t understand very well how it works,” Burnett said.
While pandemic curbs were still in place and everything was online, Burnett reached out to a group in Co. Offaly which offered remote training – Offaly Domestic Violence Support Services.
“I asked the person in charge if I could have some information in Spanish, and she told me she didn’t have it,” says Burnett.
But she told her, Burnett says, that if she wanted, she could translate their material for others.
They met and talked, Burnett says, about how migrant women are particularly vulnerable in domestic abuse situations.
The charity worker offered training so that Burnett and others could set up a group to help those women, she says.
That’s how the Latina Women Against Violence group was born. “Right now we have 12 volunteers,” says Burnett.
They offer companionship and support, and run workshops with lawyers and mediators who can advise women in Spanish about things like coercive control. They put videos on their YouTube channel sometimes, too.
Afraid and dependent
The most vulnerable women, Burnett says, are those who have fallen undocumented, losing their legal immigration statuses because of domestic abuse.
In one case that she knows of, the guy had brought a woman to Ireland on a tourist visa, promising to sort out her immigration status later. But he never did, she says.
Burnett accompanied the woman once to a domestic-violence charity outside Dublin. The experience disillusioned her, she says. “They literally told her that she was illegal in front of me.”
Burnett told them she was just undocumented, not illegal, she says. “And they cannot say that. They cannot say that.”
Finally, they found support for the woman in Dublin, she says.
Being undocumented can silence women in other ways, too. They may avoid reporting abusers to the Gardaí, fearing the guards would investigate their own immigration statuses and try to deport them.
The Department of Justice has an immigration scheme for victims of domestic violence whose status is tied to an abuser, laying out a route for them to get their own independent permissions.
But its website and the guidelines appear to contradict each other, when it comes to the eligibility of those who are undocumented.
“You are not eligible under these guidelines if you are unlawfully resident in Ireland,” says its Irish Immigration website.
The guidelines issued in June 2021 also say that people need to have some form of legal status as a dependent of an Irish citizen or non-Irish immigrant to apply. But, then they also say that people can still make an application if their permission has lapsed.
“But it will have to be clearly explained in the application as to the circumstances in which the permission was not renewed,” say the guidelines.
People should report abuse to the Gardaí regardless of their immigration status, the guidelines also say.
Love and pep talk
Yuriria Herrera, who has a master’s degree in conflict resolution, says she volunteers with Latina Women Against Violence because the cause is close to her heart.
In Mexico, her place of birth, a culture of machismo and male entitlement drives up cases of domestic abuse, she says.
In the early months of the pandemic, as Mexico’s domestic violence calls climbed, the country’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dismissed the rising pleas for help as pranks and fake.
“I always wanted to have some sort of involvement in this,” said Herrera on Thursday evening, sitting at a late-night café.
She values offering companionship to women and giving pep talks to support them to report their abusers or seek help, she says. “Because it’s always intimidating when you have to face an authority to explain your situation.”
Sofia Steiner Garro, another volunteer, looks after the group’s marketing and communication.
She was born in Costa Rica and is a survivor of gender-based violence. That was before moving to Ireland, where she got the support she needed, she says.
“I already survived that, and it’s something that if I have the opportunity to help prevent for another woman, I would,” said Garro on Friday, sitting at Blás café on King’s Inns Street.
Like Herrera, Garro says the impact of male violence in her country of birth is a motivating factor behind her volunteer work – plus a growing wave of anti-immigrant sentiment here.
Herrera says the difficulties of navigating Ireland’s work-permit system provide an opportunity for abusive men to take advantage of migrant women who struggle to get permits that give them independence, and to use their desire to live where they want to live to silence them.
She knows of cases where guys took away women’s passports, she says.
“If you can have an independent permission, that’s the best thing you can have. You’re free,” said Herrera.
The woman with the three-year-old child, who knew Herrera before reaching out to the group, says she is hopeful that one day she can volunteer alongside her.
“I say, ‘Yuri, I know one day I’m going to be on the other side,’” she says.
If you or somebody you know might need help, Women’s Aid’s national 24-hour hotline can also be contacted at 1800-341-900.