In September 2003, Vanessa left Nicaragua and fled to the United States in search of safety. Vanessa has identified as a lesbian since she was 12. She grew up in Nicaragua, where being lesbian or gay is still a criminal offense. Because of Nicaragua’s strong social and religious bias against LGBTQ people, she suffered harassment and ostracism by her family and peers. Vanessa believed she had no choice but to endure a heterosexual relationship and suppress her feelings toward women. Vanessa suffered repeated physical and emotional battering by her common law husband who abused her because of her desire for independence and because he knew she is a lesbian.
NCLR partnered with local attorney Betsy Allen and filed an asylum application on her behalf based on her gender and sexual orientation. On May 10, 2005, Vanessa was granted asylum in San Francisco, California.