Oliva Espín speaks at Worcester State College

Speaker Chronicles Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities

October 26, 2009
By: WSU News

Women and men have different experiences during border crossings, said Dr. Oliva M. Espín at the Worcester State College Women’s Studies Program Candace Allen Scola Memorial Lecture last week.

She told the often harrowing stories of immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence. According to Espín, between three and four million women are beaten by their husbands or partners every year, and the most common injury among women between the ages of 15 and 40 is from domestic violence. She said immigrant women suffer even more. She reported that one-half of immigrant women are victims of domestic violence.

Espín said that the reasons for the abuse are partly due to the stress of moving to a new country and the increased stress and marginalization of their husbands and partners in their new surroundings. But she said that although violence usually worsens after immigration, many of these women were also victimized before they moved to the U.S.

She also said there is a tendency in some law enforcement circles to consider the cultural background of the abuser. She cited the example of Somali immigrants in San Diego, where abuse is attributed to “a different culture,” But she reminded the audience that authorities do not accept cultural differences in all laws. “It is also part of their culture for men to walk through the streets with the goats and herd them with sticks. But if they were to do that in San Diego, police would stop them,” she said.

Espín’s talk was featured at the annual lecture honoring Candace Allen Scola, a Worcester State College geography and education student who was murdered in her Worcester home in July 2002. She had hoped to become a teacher, to make a difference in the lives of young people like the troubled youths she encountered in her work at Worcester Juvenile Court. WSC, with the support of the Allen family, responded to her death by creating a Student Meditation Garden on campus and established the college’s annual lecture in her honor.

Espín is professor emerita of women’s studies at San Diego State University and professor emerita of psychology at Alliant International University (California School of Professional Psychology-San Diego). She specializes in the psychology of Latinas, immigrant and refugee women, women’s sexuality across cultures and qualitative research methodology. She trained psychotherapists and worked as a feminist therapist for 20 years before coming to San Diego in 1990.

A native of Cuba, Espín has lived and worked in several countries. She received the 1991 Award for Distinguished Professional Contribution to Public Service from the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Career Award from the Association for Women in Psychology in 2001 and distinguished publication awards from the Association for Women in Psychology in 1993 and in 1999. She is a sought after consultant and the author of many articles. She regularly presents her work at national and international professional conferences.

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