At a Congressional Briefing in April 2015, the Avon Foundation released the Avon-funded NO MÁS Study, the most comprehensive study of domestic violence and sexual assault in the U.S. Latin@ community to date. The findings demonstrated an urgent need for increased awareness, conversation, and education around domestic violence and sexual assault, with an emphasis on what bystanders can do to prevent violence and help victims. To meet the need for increased awareness and education, the Avon Foundation announced $1.5 million in grants at the end of 2015 to support domestic violence organizations serving the Latin@ community in the U.S.
International Rescue Committee (IRC) – Bridge To Safety Program
In January 2016, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched its Bridge To Safety program to help domestic violence survivors in the Latina refugee community in Miami. Funded by the Avon Foundation’s NO MÁS grant, the program is designed to create awareness and empower women through educational and supportive services.
The first step to the Bridge To Safety program is to provide domestic violence screenings to assess for signs of current or prior domestic violence. Through the screening process, clients and caseworkers discuss the clients’ initial months outside of their home country and their understanding of life in the United States and options of supportive services. Through each screening session, program staff was able to refer potential participants to the Women’s Listening Group, an eight week workshop with yoga, discussions, and journaling. These group sessions became a safe space for the Latina women to share their concerns, ask questions about accessing services, and meet other peers for support. Participants are encouraged also to reflect and learn coping mechanisms to overcome the unique trauma and stress of the refugee resettlement experience. The program also consists of cultural orientation sessions, where clients were given the opportunity to share experiences with each other and ask any questions related to living in the U.S. Through videos, discussions, games and other hands-on activities, these sessions help clients adjust into their new community.
It has been reported that during the first two quarters of this grant, 60 women have been screened. Initially, many of the clients did not identify their experiences as inclusive of domestic violence, but with a better understanding of the definition, women shared that abuse is common in their culture and often defined as normal behavior. And while many women do not experience physical violence, many are victims of mental abuse. They also discussed how their culture often puts the blame on the victims.
All staff members were provided with comprehensive training on deliverables and objectives of the project, issues surrounding domestic violence, current statistics, victim confidentiality, supportive communication and mandatory
reporting. IRC also informs the staff of the types of services available for survivors and how to screen and comfort participants when asking personal questions about potential past trauma.
To provide the participants with the best resources and services, IRC established partnerships with various organizations, including emergency shelters, mental health providers, legal providers and local law enforcement agencies.
While there are many refugee agencies and domestic violence groups in the South Florida region, Bridge To Safety is the only project that focuses on the intersection of the two groups. In addition, the IRC is planning on expanding the project further to include non-Latina women, and use the Latino community as a control against other communities’ disclosure rates.
Interval House programs and services address the issue of culturally-specific barriers, including victims’ fears of deportation, increased violence and the loss of their children which all contribute at some level to preventing immigrant Latino DV victims from accessing life-saving services. Interval House, staffed by immigrant Latino domestic violence survivors, served as the earliest voice for immigrant and underserved Latino victims and their children and started the nation’s first Latino program for domestic violence victims and their children in 1980.
The 2016 Avon NO MÁS grant program allowed Interval House to extend their bilingual outreach, education and legal assistance with increased access and life-saving opportunity to those who desperately need the support.
The leadership of Interval House staff has changed thousands of lives and policies across our nation. This year, Interval House hosted a cultural celebration and awards ceremony, where its Latino Program staff leaders and advocates received the prestigious President’s Volunteer Service award, the highest honor in our nation, for their outstanding leadership in the Latino community.
Interval House has been saving lives of victims who had lived in fear of deportation, loss of children and other perceived legal repercussions if they chose to leave their abusive relationship through their bilingual immigration and legal clinics. These clinics have assisted 526 victims over the past six months of the NO MÁS grant program, and they have provided victims with critical assistance relating to immigration and legal issues, such as VAWA applications, emergency protective orders, temporary restraining orders, court/criminal justice-related services, and many other services. Interval House, also, developed bilingual flyers that are widely distributed throughout the community to inform victims and survivors of available services while targeting other organizations to build community support.
In the past six months, Interval House’s Latino Program staff have reached over 1,550 people through community education presentations and training events at schools, health clinics, community organizations, and more. In addition, they have responded to 5,060 crisis calls from Latino victims during the same time period through their 24-hour crisis hotline, which is staffed by experienced Spanish-speaking survivor advocates. They provide immediate assessment and crisis counseling, as well as emergency shelter intake, housing assistance, and linkages to co-locate and partnering medical providers and law enforcement. Interval House serves as the exclusive domestic violence partner to several law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California, and attributes its program success in part to this strong network of partnerships and the support of community leaders.
One survivor who accessed the NO MAS grant services said:
“I am so excited for our future. I no longer feel as though I would have to die so that I would no longer have to suffer the pain and abuse. My children and I can live our lives violence-free and no longer have to fear the unknown. We are on our road to recovery and healing. Without Interval House’s assistance and guidance, I do not now know where our journey would have led us. Today, my children and I can smile again, laugh again, and finally be happy.”