“Salía de uno y me metí en otro” : a grounded theory approach to understanding the violence-migration nexus among Central American women in the United States

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2015-07-27

Authors

Heffron, Laurie Cook

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Abstract

The Northern Triangle of Central America is the bridge to North America – a bridge on which human crises wrought by violence and exploitation make indelible marks on migrating women. Women fleeing violence and abuse in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras face trauma and adversity during the journey through Mexico and into the U.S. Motivations to find safety and economic security are woven into the vulnerabilities and the strengths of migrating women. Research has not adequately explored how domestic and sexual violence impact and are impacted by migration, how women respond to risks, nor the role of motherhood in the face of violence.

Grounded in feminist and transnational frameworks, this study used constructivist grounded theory to explore the violence-migration nexus. In-depth interviews were conducted with 19 adult women recently migrated to the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Findings include textual accounts of women’s motivations to migrate, migration decision-making, travel logistics, and exposure to danger. The study yielded rich description of multiple types of violence encountered by women, as precipitating factors for migration, during border-crossing, and following arrival in the U.S., including sexual, domestic, gang, and state violence. These data reveal ways that types of violence are interconnected across multiple categories of violence and throughout migration. Findings also include thematic analysis of ways women weigh risks of migrating, resistance and shared survival strategies, in addition to motherhood in the context of violence. Analysis and interpretation of interactions among thematic elements result in a provisional theoretical framework to describe the violence-migration nexus encountered by Central American migrant women, reflecting a series of attempts to escape danger only to land in a new dangerous situation, with new backdrops of micro, meso, and macro-level factors of violence and new landscapes of solidarity and resistance strategies.

This study fills gaps in the depth of our understanding about the violence-migration nexus as it pertains to Central American migrant women and provides scaffolding with which to continue improving policy, practice, and advocacy responses to women and families, in the context of ever-changing dynamics of migration and shifting political landscapes.

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