The Violence against Women Act (VaWA), passed in 1994, allows spouses who were filing for their legal status through their marriage to a US citizen, and were abused during this marriage, to file for their legal status independently. My evaluations assess the mental, physical and/or sexual abuse a spouse experienced, and the emotional ramifications such abuse has caused the client to suffer.
Assessing Emotional Abuse:
Most people think of abuse as physical in nature. However, in many of the evaluations I perform, there was little or no physical domination. The abuse is emotional in nature and because there are no bruises, cuts, broken bones and often no police reports, this abuse can be harder to substantiate. However, the emotional control and exertion of power of one spouse over another can cause a similar reaction of trauma and/or depression in the victim. Because emotional control can be difficult to quantify, my evaluations are critical in confirming the presence of such abuse, and describing the ways in which this abuse causes emotional pain.
Some ways in which a partner can exert abusive emotional control are:
-Limiting their spouse’s access to work, money or material resources
-Isolating their spouse from friends or groups
-Throwing away spouse’s belongings
-Criticizing, humiliating and undermining spouse’s self-esteem
-Ridiculing spouse for expressing opinions
In cases where one spouse has their legal status and the other does not, threats of having the spouse deported, or calling the police, are often part of the pattern of control. Clients applying for their legal status are often terrified that they might at any time be deported and separated from their family, friends and life in the U.S. This threat often adds significantly to the feeling that they need to do anything the spouse asks to avoid being turned in, and to have the opportunity to obtain their legal status.
The impact of being in an abusive relationship often has a long-term, damaging impact on the victim’s self-esteem, which can lead to depression. Being stripped away of all power and being made to feel ashamed and helpless causes the spouse to internalize the belief that he/she is of low importance. Even people who previously had high self-esteem begin to question themselves, to feel unattractive, uninteresting, and/or unintelligent.
Over time, and especially if the client engages with a good therapist, these symptoms can improve or even resolve.
The ability of the client to file for their legal status and begin to forge an independent and empowered life is critical in their recovery from the damage of the abusive marriage. My reports professionally detail the client’s experience during their marriage, and describe the suffering they experienced during and after the marriage. As it is often difficult and painful for clients to describe this, my reports are critical in highlighting the extent of abuse and suffering that occurred, and strengthen the cases of these suffering clients.