A Latin American woman, whose husband's latest attack left her with two broken fingers, a swollen face and bruises on her neck and chest, refused to report the beating to police. After a few days in a women's shelter, she returned home.
She is an undocumented, illiterate laborer whose children, passport and money are tightly controlled by her husband. Even though she was instructed about her rights and options, fear and a lack of confidence won out.
The growing population of refugees and immigrants in the Washington metropolitan area is stretching available resources needed to deal with a variety of languages, ethnic backgrounds and religious tenets.
In 1987, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 30 percent of female homicide victims were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.
According to a National Crime Survey for 1978-1982, an estimated 2.1 million married, divorced or separated women were victims at least once in a 12-month period of rape, robbery, aggravated or simple assault by their partners.
Refugees and immigrant women are especially vulnerable: Most are dependent on men; many do not speak English; a number of them are unaware that battery is a crime in the United States.
For refugees and immigrants alike, migration "increases domestic violence because of tension, particularly when there is a change in roles and the woman becomes the breadwinner ... challenging the traditional status of men," says Zoreh Khayam, former protection coordinator at Refugee Women in Development (RefWID), a private, nonprofit organization here.
Over the last five years RefWID has trained about 150 counselors drawn from communities of Third-World immigrants.
Some aspects of the services available are not always acceptable for Third-World people, says Khayam, who cites women's shelters as an example. When Ethiopian couples quarrel, for instance, they may leave the conjugal house and go to their respective families, making sure each knows the other's whereabouts.
Although shelters are an option, Ethiopian women in need of a place are reluctant to "go underground," Khayam says.
Many times in the District there is a waiting list for shelters.
The ability to accept victims on call seems not to be a problem in surrounding jurisdictions: The Prince George's women's shelter provided room for 176 women and 198 children in fiscal year 1989, while the Fairfax women's shelter has lodged more than 1,100 women and children in the past 12 years.
All across the region, however, the first hurdle these services must overcome is the language barrier.
Alexandria's Domestic Violence Program has nine staffers and 50 volunteers, 10 of whom speak Spanish. Fairfax County's Victim Assistance Network (VAN), with four staffers, has 60 volunteer counselors: three speak Spanish, one Arabic and one Farsi.
All the programs are working to publish brochures in several languages, which can be a major task: In Northern Virginia 75 different languages are spoken in some communities.
In all jurisdictions police, courts, hospitals, mental-health centers and therapists have enlarged their pools of translators to provide assistance to foreigners.
Third-World women must deal with additional fears, however. In many cases, they are afraid of authority, government institutions and their abusers' threat of being turned over to immigration officials to be deported.
The 1986 Immigration Reform Act and the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment have combined to give the spouse applying for permanent residence a powerful tool to control his partner.
At the workplace immigrant women are vulnerable, too: "Women on night shifts cleaning large, deserted office buildings and doing room service in hotels are more exposed to abuse and rape by employers and fellow workers," says Dama Garate, a social worker at Arlington Mental Health Center.
VAN's coordinator Ann Van Ryzin sees the growing number of abuse cases reported as related to "acculturation" and not as evidence of increasing violence among immigrants.
"The more adapted and assimilated people become, the more aware they are of services available to them and the means to defend their rights," Van Ryzin says.
Religion is an ambivalent element among Third-World women victimized by their partners, Khayam says.
According to the Koran, "men are in charge of women because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other and because they (the men) spend of their property (for the support of women)."
Koran's Sura IV.34 indicates that "good women are obedient" and instructs men on the steps to deal with rebellious women: "admonish them, banish them to beds apart and scourge them."
A VAN instruction sheet for counselors says Buddhist women are prone to accept victimization as their fate, while Asians' scruples not to bring "shame" on the family can prevent victims from seeking help.
However, Khayam says, Buddhist passive acceptance of suffering has endowed some Asian women with an impressive resilience to overcome victimization without being emotionally destroyed by anger.
Male anger, on the other hand, is being addressed by special programs in the Washington area meant to teach men to recognize their violence and frustration and to handle their emotions in ways that do not hurt their partners.
Tradition and experiences in their countries of origin also interfere with perception, both by abused and abusers, of what is an unacceptable behavior in the United States, where a decade-long feminist effort and nationwide campaigns for child rights have sensitized society about these issues.
An immigrant father may be just asserting what, according to his cultural background, is his "right to discipline" his wife or children.
A Latin American woman testifying in court recently, kept saying her husband hadn't mistreated her. Previously, she had said she had been punched, kicked, dragged by the hair and restrained in her bedroom under threat of knives and guns.
According to her past experience, these incidents "are natural when marriages have a dispute and, anyway, it wasn't that bad as on other occasions."
National Domestic Violence hot line, 1-800-333-7233; hearing-impaired, 1-800-873-6363.