It might be daunting not knowing where to seek help if you have experienced sexual harassment or assault, especially considering getting a lawyer in the United States can be expensive. This article aims to provide immigrant New Yorkers with a list of accessible legal and community resources and steps to take if you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence or harassment.
As a newsroom devoted to covering immigrant communities, Documented has compiled a comprehensive guide for immigrant New Yorkers. This article is part of the guide.
What is sexual violence, assault and harassment?
Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence defines sexual violence as “any action that results in the loss or removal of sexual autonomy for a person.” It includes but is not limited to sexual harassment or assault, sex trafficking, non-consensual distribution of intimate images and any other non-consensual, forced, or drug-facilitated sexual advances.
For more details on how New York State defines specific sex crimes, please visit the website of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization.
So what does “non-consensual” mean? Under the New York State Penal Law Section 130.05, lack of consent may result from:
- forcible compulsion;
- incapacity to consent;
- where the offense charged is sexual abuse or forcible touching, any circumstances, in addition to forcible compulsion or incapacity to consent, in which the victim does not expressly or impliedly acquiesce in the actor’s conduct; or
- where the offense charged is rape in the 3rd degree or criminal sexual act in the 3rd degree, in addition to forcible compulsion, circumstances under which, at the time of the act of intercourse, oral sexual conduct or anal sexual conduct, the victim clearly expressed that he or she did not consent to engage in such act, and a reasonable person in the actor’s situation would have understood such person’s words and acts as an expression of lack of consent to such act under all the circumstances.
Jill K. Sanders at the Pappalardo & Pappalardo, LLP, explains in an article that a person is incapable of consent when he or she is under 17 years old; mentally disabled or incapacitated; physically helpless, including being unconscious, asleep or drugged; in police custody, jail or prison; or in some hospital or medical settings.
Note: Sexual harassment can be verbal, physical or pictorial. Whether you are the victim of sexual harassment or someone who is affected by it or witnessed it, you have the right to complain. In a working environment, you have the right not to be retaliated against by your employer if you complain about sexual harassment of you or another person, according to the New York City Bar’s website.
Please remember, experiencing sexual violence is NOT your fault. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or social group. Check out NYC HOPE’s website to look for signs of gender-based violence.
Challenges facing the immigrant community
When it comes to getting support after experiencing sexual violence, many immigrant New Yorkers are concerned about not being able to receive services in their native language, says Audrey Williams, a crime victim/domestic violence advocate at the 5th Precinct.
Another big challenge is the lack of language to speak about situations regarding sexual violence. “It can be very difficult to conceive and discuss sexual violence. And there’s a discrepancy between the cultures of talking about sexual violence in English and in other cultures where sexual violence may not be spoken about as frequently,” says Williams. Thus, survivors are concerned about what they described being misunderstood or misconstrued.
Concerns about interacting with law enforcement and paying for medical care are also very common among immigrant New Yorkers, especially with undocumented immigrants. However, Williams highly recommends that you talk to an advocate to learn what your rights are and what options are open for you.
Moreover, Williams stresses that regardless of your immigration status, you have the right to speak with an advocate, the police or the district attorney’s office. It is also your right to request a translation service, regardless of where you are from.
What to do after you experience sexual violence?
In the case of sexual assault, “one of the first steps is to check up with a doctor to seek medical care,” says Williams. You have the option of getting a sexual assault forensic exam. The purpose of the exam is for you to preserve possible DNA evidence and receive medical care. You don’t have to report the incident before or after you take the examination, but it serves as evidence for prosecution should you report it in the future.
RAINN advises that, if possible, you don’t bathe, shower, use the restroom or change clothes prior to the exam. If you have already done any of the above, which is natural after undergoing a traumatic experience, you can still request to perform the exam.
But “it can be really difficult for someone who’s experienced sexual violence to think about evidence,” says Williams. “I think the most important thing is to get a sense of what you want to do. And if that means taking care of yourself, don’t focus too much on the evidence if that’s too overwhelming.”
The New York State Division of Human Rights recommends writing down what happened as detailed as possible in a diary and keeping it safe. Keep any potential evidence, including emails and postcards. Writing down what happened to you can be used as direct evidence for the family court to give you an order of protection, said Chen Chen, a Mandarin-speaking attorney at Safe Horizon. If you’re comfortable doing so, you can also share the experience with your trusted friends or family.
You can always report the incident to the police, which is “a meaningful step to personal safety,” said Chen.
“The next step would be consulting a domestic violence attorney. And a trauma-informed attorney can help (the survivor) determine his or her rights and options in pursuing a family court protection,” Chen adds.
The last section offers you a list of community organizations and accessible legal services.
Workplace sexual harassment
If you experienced non-assault sexual harassment at the workplace, find out your company’s policies, if any, on filing a complaint. You can consider reporting internally, for example, to the Human Resource department or other departments in your company responsible for the complaint before going to the police, says Elissa Devins, a senior staff attorney at New York Legal Assistance Group. The main purpose is to stop the harassment as soon as possible.
Remember to keep a copy of the complaint. Also, Devins advises victims to make clear that you experienced sexual harassment, rather than writing something like “my coworker bothered me.”
“Employees can file administrative complaints with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), the federal agency that investigates federal sexual harassment claims within 300 days of the last discriminatory action by an employer, or within three years at the NY State Human Rights Division and the NYC Human Rights Commission,” she added.
Keep documents that can serve as a reference of your job performance or pay stubs in case you need them as supporting evidence.
I’m an undocumented immigrant. Can I file a complaint?
Yes. Immigration status is irrelevant to the filing and investigation of such a complaint.
If you are a worker, there are limitations to which you can get back pay or reinstatement. For more information on remedies, please visit Workplace Fairness’ website.
I experienced sexual violence at school. What shall I do?
If you want to file a claim with the criminal justice system
RAINN has written a detailed guide on what to expect from the legal procedure.
The statute of limitation means that “when the commission of the offense happened, you have to bring the lawsuit within a certain time limit,” Chen explains. She adds that since there are many different sexual offenses under the New York Penal Law, the statute of limitation varies according to the specificity of the offense. RAINN has compiled the criminal statute of limitation of New York regarding different types of sexual offenses.
I’m not sure if what I encountered is sexual harassment, what shall I do?
It is possible that because of differences in culture and legal system, some victims may not recognize if a crime is committed. An example provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is that it is illegal for a person to force his or her spouse to have sex in the U.S. It is also possible that victims do not remember clearly what happened to them, especially if drug or alcohol is involved.
“Regardless of who you are and what culture you come from, the most important thing is to check in with yourself. If anything makes you feel uncomfortable and you want some support, you can reach out,” said Williams.
Where can I find community and legal resources?
New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault and New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence has compiled lists of detailed sexual violence and domestic violence support programs based on the area you are in, some of which are included below.
You can also use the tool by NYC HOPE to filter and search for community resources available to you.
Also read: Domestic Violence Resource List
The list below includes a few resources targeting specifically to Chinese or Asian immigrants in New York. If you know any other organizations providing sexual violence support for them, please feel free to email Nancy Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will update the list.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7/365, providing free, confidential support, crisis intervention information, education, and referral services to domestic violence survivors in over 200 languages.
Hotline (24/7): 800-799-7233
Go to one-to-one online live chat by clicking on the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website.
The other option is to text “START” to 88788.
They also developed a tool where you can filter the services you need.
RAINN is the U.S. largest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization, which works with over 1,000 local sexual assault service providers to offer confidential support services.
National Sexual Assault Hotline (24/7): 800-656-4673
You can also chat online (24/7) in a one-on-one session with an advocate in a confidential manner.
Their app provides you with self-care, educational resources and the support services you can find around your area.
Sexual harassment hotline: 800-427-2773
Call 911 or go to your local police precinct to file a report. They offer services in multiple languages.
Through NYC FJC, survivors of gender-based violence and their children can get connected to organizations providing case management, economic empowerment, counseling and civil and criminal legal assistance.
- Brooklyn: 350 Jay St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 (Phone: 718-250-5113)
- Bronx: 198 East 161st St., 2nd Fl., Bronx, NY 10451 (Phone: 718-508-1220)
- Manhattan: 80 Centre St., 5th Fl., New York, NY 10013 (Phone: 212-602-2800)
- Queens: 126-02 82nd Ave., Kew Gardens, NY 11415 (Phone: 718-575-4545)
- Staten Island: 126 Stuyvesant Place, Staten Island, NY 10301 (Phone: 718-697-4300)
District Attorney offices
- Brooklyn District Attorney helplines: 718-250-3300 (domestic violence); 718-250-3321 (teen dating violence); 718-250-5111 (family justice); 718-250-3820 (victim services)
- Bronx District Attorney Special Victims Division helplines: 718-838-6688 (domestic violence); 718-838-7176 (child abuse or sex crimes); 718-590-2114 (crime victims assistance bureau)
- Manhattan District Attorney sex crimes helpline: 212-335-9373
- Queens District Attorney Domestic Violence Bureau: 718-286-4410 (24/7 hotline); DVBureau@queensda.org
- Richmond County (Staten Island) District Attorney Domestic Violence Bureau: 718-697-8315
Safe Horizon provides services for victims of crime and abuse, including child abuse and their families. It offers legal and court programs, domestic violence shelters, counseling centers and more. Its hotline offers help in more than 150 languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese dialects.
Domestic violence victims (24/7): 800-621-4673
Crime victims (including family members of homicide victims): 866-689-4357
Rape & sexual assault victims: 212-227-3000
TDD machine for hearing impaired clients for all hotlines: 866-604-5350
Safe chat function: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., only in English. The chat will be confidential except for special circumstances where you may hurt yourself or others.
For more contacts, please visit Safe Horizon’s website.
Garden of Hope
Garden of Hope aims to provide support to domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking victims or survivors and create a knowledgeable and supportive community through prevention education. It offers services in Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Fujianese.
You need to make an appointment before visiting its offices in Queens and Brooklyn (confidential locations).
Mailing address: P.O. Box 520048, Flushing, NY 11352
Womankind (formerly known as the New York Asian Women’s Center) helps survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual violence rise above trauma and build a path to healing. The organization provides services in 18+ Asian languages and dialects with a 24/7 toll-free, multilingual helpline, safe and confidential emergency housing, wellness programs, creative arts therapy, support groups and more.
24-hour multilingual helpline: 888-888-7702
Text Womankind for help in: English 929-207-5907; Chinese 929-207-5901
Manhattan: 9 Mott St., Ste. 200, New York, NY 10053 (Monday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Queens: 86-26 Broadway, 2nd Fl., Elmhurst, NY 11373 (Monday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Brooklyn: 341 39th St., Ste. 402, Brooklyn, NY 11232 (Monday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Besides the above groups, some of which also offer legal assistance, the below includes organizations specializing in legal services.
For matters relating to family, domestic violence and divorce, contact their team in your borough:
Bronx: 718-991-4758 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Brooklyn: 718-422-2838 (Second and fourth Wednesday of each month, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.)
Manhattan: 212-426-3000 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Queens: 718-286-2450 (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.)
Staten Island: 347-422-5333 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)