It was Dec. 4, 2010, and Belem Ortega was lying face down on the bedroom floor, blood seeping from the gash on the crown of her head, recalculating the equation she had run in her mind a thousand times before.
The variables had remained relatively constant: Her desire to provide food, shelter and supervision for her three children weighed against her ability to withstand the physical violence from her boyfriend and her prospects for finding help as someone not legally in the country.
A little more than a week prior, right before Thanksgiving, a new variable emerged. Ortega was pregnant.
At that point she was broken. Her boyfriend and father of the two youngest children, Jesus Tepoxtecatl, had beaten and berated Ortega constantly for years.
She told Tepoxtecatl she didn't want to have another baby with him. Ortega did not know what she would do. She could not bear the thought of another mouth to feed knowing Tepoxtecatl would most likely do what he had always done: sit at home drinking with his relatives and friends while she worked multiple jobs to bring home enough money to pay for the essentials.
Tepoxtecatl, on the other hand, was upbeat. Things would be better, different.
"He told me he would start helping," Ortega, a diminutive 5-foot 2-inch woman with round cheeks, said. "I was foolish. All he cared about was himself. He wanted to be in the house because it was comfortable. I did all the work."
Ortega's mental calculations continued.
Would she be deported if she called the police? Who would help her, a Mexican immigrant who can't speak English? Who would look after her children? In the past when she called the cops, her boyfriend would simply disappear before they arrived.
Ortega is not alone among women in Nevada, Hispanic women or immigrant women.
A recent federal Centers for Disease Control report found that nearly half of all women living in Nevada at the time of the survey had experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, a rate second only to Oklahoma's.
"Domestic violence lives in shadows, lives in fear and it lives in isolation," said Lisa Lynn Chapman, grant manager at Safe Nest, an area agency that provides services to victims of domestic violence. "Immigrant populations have all three of those innately built in, especially if they are undocumented. They are isolated because the person they turn to may not know their language. They don't know the resources available to them if their English is not good. They are innately isolated, especially when they first come over."
This time was different from the dozens of previous beatings. Ortega was pregnant, sick and weak from malnutrition. Tepoxtecatl wounded Ortega worse than ever before, smashing a clock radio across the back of her head repeatedly. When her 9-year-old daughter from a previous relationship stood up to defend her mother, according to the police report, Tepoxtecatl hit her, too.
Ortega embodies common issues faced by Hispanics, and more specifically immigrants, who are victims of domestic violence. Their isolation from mainstream services makes seeking help difficult, and research shows immigrants and Hispanics are less likely to reach out to formal services than other groups. Ortega and many of those in similar situations are often ignorant of the programs that can help them, including special visas for those who have been the victim of a crime.
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