It’s been well over a year that many of us have been waiting. Waiting for case numbers to go down. Waiting for a vaccine, and then waiting for a vaccine appointment. Waiting for COVID-19 to be “over.”
And we’re the fortunate ones.
In this same time period, many adults and children have experienced a separate, overlapping anticipation. Waiting for their turn to receive guidance, mental health services and financial assistance after experiencing domestic violence.
It’s a personal tragedy that does not discriminate on the color of your skin, your address, or the language you speak. And yet, our systems to help these people do.
Recognizing and counteracting this problem, in 1998, a group of Latina community leaders in Denver formed a volunteer group to provide assistance to fellow Latina survivors of domestic violence. In 2004, the group formalized its bilingual and culturally responsive services to survivors and registered as a 501(c)(3). Although the organization has remained small, the trouble it addresses has not.
In 2020, Latina SafeHouse responded nimbly to a spike in community need that corresponded with the concurrent economic, social and health crises brought on by the pandemic. The small team led by Angela Ceseña increased revenue from $170,000 to $640,000, with roughly 80% going directly to survivor services. Still, community need outpaced the organization’s capacity, and for the first time in the organization’s 20+ years in operation, they started a waitlist.
Add to this difficult situation the barriers that Latinas face even reporting domestic violence, and you have a truly tenuous situation for many women and children. If they do report, domestic violence survivors are sometimes arrested as the primary offenders because of miscommunication between English and Spanish speakers.
For those who are undocumented, it’s more complicated. Survivors’ partners often withhold cash and important documents (passports, birth certificates, children’s birth certificates), compounding the emotional and physical abuse. That’s all against a backdrop of Immigration and Customs Enforcement being, for myriad reasons, sluggish at best and heartbreaking at worst in its dealings with domestic violence survivors.
In response to all these conditions (and more), Latina SafeHouse orients its work to be survivor driven and trauma informed.
Speaking the same language as survivors is an important part of being survivor driven, but it doesn’t stop there. Angela and her team are also careful in remembering that the Latinx community is by no means monolithic; that they have to be nimble in connecting with survivors (WhatsApp, being Wi-Fi enabled, is a favored means of communication); and that their program model needs to shift to meet survivors where they are (the organization’s “Mi Casita” housing-first program provides flexible financial assistance to survivors).
As for operating as a trauma-informed organization, case managers are first and foremost compassionate providers and advocates. They are constantly aware of the imbalance of power inherent in domestic violence and in assistance. They are careful to phrase follow-up conversations in ways that won’t re-trigger traumatic experiences for survivors, e.g., “I see we still need to help you make that appointment …” rather than “Why didn’t you go to your appointment?” This mindset affects paperwork and history taking, too.
For all these reasons, and for working tirelessly to do more in 2020 and 2021, Latina SafeHouse is a brand we love. It is a bold yet humble organization that helps people in extremely difficult circumstances to move forward, to move on. And they’re not shy about their ultimate goal: to cease to exist. Consider supporting the organization. And/or if you’re in Denver, check out their “SOMOS / We Are” collaboration with Museo de las Americas. The exhibit is open May 5 through August 21. Somos Semillas (We Are Seeds) community conversations about resiliency, self-care and the SOMOS exhibition run once monthly May through September.
Emergency: Dial 911.
Crisis: Call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-TALK (option #2 for Spanish).
Call National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or go to www.thehotline.org for a live chat.
Community Navigation: Call Tú Comunidad (Your Community) at 720-336-1664.
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