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77 percent of the Latinas surveyed said that sexual harassment was a major problem in the workplace.

Latinas have shown higher rates of nondisclosure of sexual assault than other women from other ethnicities. Other research indicated that sex, rape, and abuse are rarely discussed among Latinas. Furthermore, traditional beliefs about marriage contribute to this reluctance of Latinas to report their sexual assault abuse. (9)

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Latina girls reported that they were likely to stop attending school activities and sports to avoid sexual harassment. (1)

Married Latinas were less likely than other women to immediately define their experiences of forced sex by their spouses as “rape” and terminate their relationships; some viewed sex as a marital obligation. (2)

For the increasing numbers of women who make the journey across the Mexico-U.S. border, rape has become so prevalent that many women take birth control pills or get shots before setting out to ensure that they won’t get pregnant. (3)

According to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (2009), 77 percent of the Latinas surveyed said that sexual harassment was a major problem in the workplace. (4)

Immigrant Latina domestic workers are especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation because they depend on their employers for their livelihood, live in constant fear of being deported, suffer social isolation, and are vulnerable to their employer’s demands. (5)

Campesinas or female farmworkers are 10 times more vulnerable than others to sexual assault and harassment at work; among all the burdens they bear, these are often the heaviest. (6) 

A 2010 survey of 150 farmworker women in California’s Central Valley found that 80 percent had experienced some form of sexual harassment, while a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that a majority of their 150 interviewees had also experienced sexual harassment. (7)(8)

by Carlos A. Cuevas, Ph.D. and Chiara Sabina, Ph.D.

The SALAS study assessed the victimization experiences of a national sample of 2,000 Latino women living in the United States.

Results: The rate of sexual victimization for the sample was 17.2% (22.2% weighted).


  • 8.8% of the sample experienced a completed sexual assault

  • 8.9% experienced attempted sexual assault

  • 11.4% experienced fondling or forced touch

Based on these different experiences 48% of sexual assault victims reported more than one type of sexual victimization.


  • 7.6% of the sample experienced at least one adulthood sexual assault

  • 12.2% of the sample experienced at least one childhood sexual assault


Perpetrator rates show that adult sexual violence was most often perpetrated by either a spouse or partner (44.1% of adult sexual victimization) or someone else known to the victim (48.7% of adult sexual victimization). In childhood, the most common perpetrators were another relative (42.6%) or a non-family individual known to the victim (38.1%). In both adulthood and childhood sexual victimization, a minority of women were victimized by a stranger (30.3% and 15.21% respectively).


  • 87.5% of the women who were sexually victimized also experienced at least one other form of victimization (e.g., sexual assault and physical assault) in their lifetime.

  • The most frequent overlapping form of victimization was physical violence (60.2%)

  • The least frequent was witnessed victimization (45.1%)


  • Latino women who were sexually victimized in childhood also experienced high rates of other forms of childhood violence, with physical victimization being the most common (47.3%) co-existing victimization type.

  • In adulthood, the most frequently co-occurring form of victimization for 57 sexually victimized women was threats (55.9%).


  • 43.5% of the sample reported at least one lifetime victimization experience

    • 28.8% reporting at least one childhood event

    • 31.9% reporting at least one adulthood event

  • In examining the various forms of victimization:

    •  26.7% of women had more than one type of victimization in their lifetime (e.g., stalking and physical assault or physical assault and sexual assault), which means that 61.3% of victimized women experience two or more different forms of victimization. 


The majority (66.5%) of women who experienced sexual victimization selected sexual victimization as the index incident for help-seeking questions, indicating it was the most distressful victimization experience. Analyses on help-seeking responses focus on these respondents.

Formal help-seeking included seeking medical attention, respondent reporting the 60 incident to police, going to a social service agency, obtaining a restraining order or filing criminal charges.

  • About 21% of the respondents sought one or more types of formal help.

    • The most common type of formal help-seeking was medical services among women who reported injuries. The main injures reported, among those injured:

      • large bruises (45.9%)

      • small bruises (37.8%)

      • injuries inside the body (27%)

      • sprains, broken bones, or broken teeth (13.5%)

      • Criminal justice responses were not commonly sought.


Specific details were gathered about the response of police and the court process and the participant’s satisfaction with these criminal justice resources.

  • Calling the police, either by the victim herself or someone else, resulted in an arrest of the assailant in almost 50% of the cases.

  • Restraining orders were uncommon among sexual victims and were violated by a third of the 61 assailants.

  • Criminal charges were the least likely formal help-seeking mode of sexual victims and 54% of filed criminal charges resulted in sentences among this sample.

  • Within the broader context of those who reported sexual victimization as most distressful, only 3% resulted in sentencing of the assailant.

  • In general, respondents were more satisfied than dissatisfied with both the police and courts and most satisfied with the courts. 


Medical and social service help-seeking details were gathered along with a rating of helpfulness for each response. The predominant medical service sought was the emergency room (37.5% of injured women), but it received the lowest helpfulness rating of medical services. Similarly, the most common social service sought, non-specialized counseling/therapist, was also rated as least helpful in relation to the other social services. Specialized services like abuse counseling, shelter, domestic violence counseling and crisis line were rated as somewhat to very helpful, but were uncommonly sought. In fact, only 3.3% of sexual victims went to any of these four specialized services. 

To better understand women’s responses, women who employed formal help-seeking were asked how each could improve. Those who did not seek a specific type of formal helpseeking were asked why they did not seek it.

  • Respondents indicated that police could improve services by charging or arresting assailants and courts could improve by taking reports more seriously.

  • Respondents also suggested offering more advice for medical and social service 64 agencies.

    • Here the respondents restated the importance of reporting their victimization.

      • The main reasons for not seeking formal help included fear, shame and being too young.


Informal help-seeking, as measured by talking to someone about the sexual victimization incident, was more common than formal help-seeking.

  • Almost 60% of sexual victims talked to someone about the incident.

  • Disclosure to friends was most common at 31.7%

  • Disclosure to family was also quite common, with 30.9% disclosing to parents

  • The most helpful confidants according to respondents were other family members and the least helpful were parents

Confidants could improve by being more supportive and reporting the incident, according to respondents. This theme is similar to the recommendations for formal help-seeking. Women who did not disclose the incident reported shame as the main reason for keeping the incident to themselves.


Culturally-relevant factors associated with experience and responses to sexual violence. The first analysis examines the likelihood of reporting any sexual victimization by age, socio-economic status, immigrant status, and Anglo orientation:

  • An increase in age is associated with a decrease in odds of reporting sexual victimization

  • Higher socioeconomic status (SES) was associated with an increase in odds of sexual victimization

  • Being an immigrant was significantly predictive of decreased odds of sexual victimization

  • Anglo acculturation was associated with increased odds of sexual victimization. 

Cultural factors were also tested in relation to help-seeking responses among those who reported sexual victimization as the most distressful:

  • Anglo orientation was related to an increase in odds of formal help-seeking in general and getting social services in particular 

  • With relation to informal help-seeking, none of the cultural factors significantly altered the odds of informal help-seeking in general or any particular confidant


Provided by NSVRC

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1. American Association of University Women, 2001
2. Bergen, R.K. 1996. Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.​
3. Watson, Julie. 2006. Women Risk Rape, Death in U.S. Journey. New York, NY: Associated Press.
​4. ​Southern Poverty Law Center. 2009. “Sexual Abuse/Discrimination.” Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South. Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center. Available at
5. ​Vellos, Diana. 1997. “Immigrant Latina Domestic Workers and Sexual Harassment.” American University Journal of Gender and the Law 5(2): 409, 413, 419–428. Available at pdf?rd=1.
6. Lopez-Treviño, Maria Elena. 1995. “The Needs and Problems Confronting Mexican American and Latin Women Farmworkers: A Socioeconomic and Human’s Right Issue.” (Unpublished on file with author.) Cited by Maria Ontiveros. 2003. “Lessons from the Fields: Female Farmworkers and the Law,” Maine Law Review 55: 157, 168. 
7. Irma Morales Waugh, “Examining the Sexual Harassment Experiences of Mexican Immigrant Farmworking Women,” Violence Against Women, January 2010.
8. Southern Poverty Law Center, “Injustice On Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry,” November 2010.

9. Villarreal, Melissa. (2014). Latinas’ Experience of Sexual Assault Disclosure. Psychology. 05. 1285-1300. 10.4236/psych.2014.510140. 

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