Pain into Power

Undocumented victims of domestic violence and the struggles they endure

Pain into Power from Montclair State Multimedia on Vimeo.

Cristina Tone changed her pain into power by realizing her worth after voicing her experience being an undocumented victim of domestic violence.

In the immigrant community, domestic violence is a common occurrence. Much research is done on domestic violence, but research on domestic violence within the immigrant community limited.

Cristina Tone works at the neighborhood help center at NJCDC in Paterson and herself was a victim of domestic violence. Cristina came to this country with no papers and was restricted to receive them. She came to this country to try to get a better life but instead was manipulated by an American man who beat her. Tone ended up losing touch with family and friends because her abuser had her threatened to the point that she isolated herself from everyone in her life.

Tone attempted to receive help and once he found out she wanted to get her papers he started to mentally abuse her. After mentally abusing her for years, she tried to leave him and he started to physically abuse her.

“He kind of tried to kill me”

Cristina Tone

Being an undocumented immigrant, Tone was not able to receive certain jobs and had to hide from the world in fear she would be deported.

After taking years of abuse, Tone stood up for herself and left her abuser and immediately seeked help. She received her papers and was able to get a job soon after.

“Sylvia” is client of Cristina Tone and was also an undocumented victim of domestic violence. She was with her abuser for over 20 years and had three children with him; which made her financially dependent of him. The abuser would say that she will be able to receive her papers soon but never followed through and would not let her go on her own. He received his papers as soon as they came to this country and always promised her that she would get hers. Sylvia was brainwashed to the point that she never knew help was available.

Sylvia was brutally beat for years on a daily basis to the point where she attempted to take her own life three times. Also thinking that there was no job that would hire her, Sylvia became a talented seamstress in her own home. She made clothes for herself, her kids and people in her town.

Sylvia was stuck in New York with her abuser and finally gained the courage to leave one day with her kids and bought a place in Paterson, NJ. The first place she found was NJCDC and immediately found Cristina Tone. Tone has been helping her with mental therapy as well as legal documentation so that she can finally live a normal life.

Sylvia now assists Tone at the neighborhood help center as well as work on a project with Tone to help other woman going through the same trauma. She also runs a zumba class in Paterson and she is still enjoying her hobby of being a seamstress.

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Helen Archontou is the CEO at YWCA Bergen county where they help families and women in need of a social worker. She specializes in gender violence and said that cases like this are not uncommon.

“Abusers use that immigration status to intimidate and control victims to ensure that they will not go to the police, or tell anyone of the crime that is being committed to them,” Helen Archontou said.

The Violence Against Women’s Act is a piece of legislation that sought to improve domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, etc. It was created in 1994 and improved all the way until 2013 but it is now in jeopardy. The 2013 re-authorization had to be delayed because Republicans did not want the bill to include same-sex partners or undocumented immigrants applying for visas. After multiple debates, it was finally passed and was able to help women like Cristina and Sylvia but none of the women knew about this act. Most undocumented women will not come out in fear of being sent back but if one is a victim of domestic violence, they can legally receive help without being deported.

Research shows that 1 in 4 women have been abused at one point in their life and will not report it. Domestic violence typically occurs in the home with 60% of victims being Latin American, Asian, or African American. From being an immigrant, one is fluent in their native language that when they come to the United States they are easily manipulated and are only able to receive jobs in factories or restaurants.

Bills are still being passed every day to ensure that proper help is given to these women. 24 hour hotlines are always open for women who are fearful of seeing someone right away in person, but there are hundreds of domestic violence help centers just in New Jersey. Cristina Tone has assisted hundreds of clients going through similar experiences she did and places like neighborhood help center will help them through every step of the process.

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Created by: Alexis Gonzalez

Student at Montclair State University


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