Extreme cruelty is a term often used within the context of Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) Self-petitions. VAWA is immigration benefit available for some relatives of U.S. citizens or Green Card holders who suffer domestic violence at the hand of their relative. Please see here for more information about VAWA Self-petitions.

Under VAWA, and among other requirements, the applicant must show they have suffered “battery or extreme cruelty” at the hands of the abusive U.S. citizen or Green Card holder. The law recognizes that domestic violence can take many different forms. It is not mandatory for VAWA Self-petitioners to have reported incident of violence and be able to produce police reports or orders of protection in order to show evidence on their case. Despite being helpful, formal reports to law enforcement are not an option in the minds of many victims who, fearful of retaliation, decide against reporting the abuse.

Here are some examples of forms of abuse that may be considered extreme cruelty against domestic violence victims:

  • Threats of violence or emotional harm, threats to report the victim to law enforcement in order to get them deported, or threats to withdraw immigration petitions that may allow the victim to gain lawful status.
  • Controlling the victim’s finances, demand for the victim to support the common household by themselves without good reason, not allowing them to keep their earnings, or not allowing them to receive training or go to work.
  • Isolating the victim, not allowing them to have any contact with friends or family, not allowing them to speak their language, or not allowing them to learn English.
  • Emotionally abusing the victim, lying about their immigration status or case, contacting family members or friends and lie about the victim, insulting and belittling the victim.
  • Manipulating their children, threatening to take the children away if the victim attempts the leave the abuser or report the abuse, threatening the deport the children if they are undocumented.
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Please note that the abuse still needs to be significant in order to be considered extreme cruelty and it is often helpful to show how the abuse is part of a pattern of behavior to control and dominate the victim.