Experiences of gender-based violence in women asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala

  • Kim A. Baranowski Department of Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Eileen Wang Department of Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Megan R. D'Andrea Department of Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Elizabeth K. Singer Departments of Emergency Medicine and Medical Education, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Keywords: Gender-based violence, Central America, human rights, refugees, United States


Introduction: Every year, thousands of women flee gender-based violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala (sometimes collectively referred to as the Northern Triangle) in an attempt to seek asylum in the United States. Once in the United States, their legal teams may refer them for a psychological evaluation as part of their application for asylum. Licensed clinicians conduct in-depth interviews in order to document the psychological impact of the reported human rights violations. Method: Using archival de-identified data from a human rights program, this study gathered the experiences of gender-based violence reported by 70 asylum-seeking women from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala who participated in pro bono psychological evaluation. Descriptive data were analyzed using a modified consensual qualitative research (CQR-M) method.
Results: These asylum seekers reported exposure to systemic violence, including severe intimate partner violence, as well as physical and sexual assaults, and threats of death by organized criminal groups in their communities. Additionally, over a third of women reported experiences of violence during their migration. The majority of asylum seekers endorsed symptoms associated with anxiety (80%) and depression (91%), as well as trauma-and stressor-related symptoms (80%). Discussion: The results of this study elucidate the many
forms of gender-based violence experienced by women in this region, the physical and psychological sequelae of this persecution, and the systemic forces that prevent them from remaining in their countries of origin. The research results also highlight the potential impact of trauma on the women’s ability to testify effectively during asylum legal hearings, elucidate factors that may contribute to their resilience in light of the human rights violations they survived, and suggest implications for clinical practice.


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How to Cite
Baranowski, K., Wang, E., D’Andrea, M., & Singer, E. (2020). Experiences of gender-based violence in women asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Torture Journal, 29(3), 46-58. https://doi.org/10.7146/torture.v29i3.111970