Immigration abuse has been flagged by local domestic-violence support groups as an emerging trend in the Cayman Islands.

Those working with domestic-violence survivors say they have come across instances where immigration status was being used as a weapon to hold spouses and partners to ransom.

“Immigration abuse is when a perpetrator uses their partner’s immigration status to exert power and control over them,” said Mehr Lamba, outreach coordinator at the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre.

Lamba said while statistics are limited, the issue is very much on their radar as it occurs in conjunction with other forms of abuse.

“It can also fall under emotional abuse,” she added.

How immigration abuse works

Immigration abuse affects men and women, Lamba said.

With 29,108 expatriates dependent on permission to remain in the Cayman Islands, some of whom are reliant on a spouse, it is easy to see how this can be used manipulatively.

MASH 2018 domestic violence stats
69% reports made by women
31% made by men
74% of suspects were men
26% of suspects were female

“This form of abuse can include threatening to report their partner or the dissolution of the relationship to immigration, putting their immigration status at risk by affecting their ability to work and maintain a work permit,” Lamba explained.

She pointed out that, with this category of abuse, perpetrators also threaten to withdraw or not file papers relating to their partner’s immigration status.

“The perpetrator may also threaten that the partner would not be able to see their children because they would have to leave the island,” she said.

Though in a high number of these cases the victims are foreign nationals who may feel trapped, Lamba said she wants them to know that there are still places they can go and services they can access.

“The Cayman Islands Crisis Centre provides many services, including information regarding their rights and options and advocacy on behalf of people who have experienced domestic violence. [The Crisis Centre] advocates on behalf of clients with a multitude of services, including when there are issues of immigration abuse, with their consent,” she added.

Last year the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) unit received 2,218 domestic-violence referrals. Already this year’s reports have exceeded 1,900.

The MASH unit’s most recent statistical report is projecting domestic-violence reports to hit 2,895 by year’s end, based on the current monthly average of 241.

Last year, according to the MASH data, 69% of domestic-violence reports were made by women and 31% by men.

In those reports, 74% of the suspects or perpetrators were men, while 26% were female.

Crisis Centre resources stretched

The Cayman Islands Crisis Centre has been operating for the last 16 years and its four-bedroom, three-bathroom shelter is bursting at the seams.

The shelter has 24 beds and two cribs. As at the end of December, 35 women and children were accessing the services there.

Throughout all of 2018, 51 women and 42 children were helped by the Crisis Centre. In 2017, 29 women and 26 children accessed the services.

Lamba said the Crisis Centre has a five-year plan which includes a new shelter.

“[The proposed shelter] is purpose-built and it gives families the space to heal and we are really looking at how we can do that and for that, we need government support. We need private sector support and really community support to come together as the community did 16 years ago … when the current shelter was built,” Lamba said.

She said resources like Estella’s Place, which now operates as a walk-in centre during business hours, the Taya Lounge and the Kids Helpline are open to those who need it.

Lamba said that those at the Crisis Centre have noted more men are also seeking support.

She said global statistics show that one in four men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Here in Cayman, she said, the needs of men who are escaping or trying to escape domestic violence are different from those of women in the same situation.

“They aren’t necessarily being kicked out of their homes, there [isn’t] that same financial need, but there is still the emotional needs. There is still the need to deal with the trauma they have experienced and deal with the domestic violence. That’s not to necessarily say they don’t need shelter or support with childcare, that still happens,” she said.

Lamba urged residents to look out for each other.

“If there is anyone out there who is experiencing domestic violence, we want them to know there are resources, there are services in the community whether it be the Crisis Centre, whether it be going to the police,” she said.

Domestic Violence Resources
24-Hour Crisis Line – 943-CICC (2422)
Kids Helpline – 649-5437 (KIDS)
MASH Unit – 1 (345) 244-6000

Estella’s Place Walk-In Centre
2nd Floor Crown Square
Eastern Avenue
1-345-623-4825

Department of Children & Family Services
3rd Floor Commerce House,
7 Genesis Close, George Town
1 (345) 949-0290