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Improving Services and Outreach
to the Latino Community


People often ask us how to improve their services to the Latino community, or more frequently, they ask how to improve their outreach to the Latino community. The questions are difficult to answer because, of course, there is no one Latino community, and certainly no one answer to the question. Latinos are a hugely diverse people, coming as they do from 24 plus different countries, and from every hue of the social, economic, and racial spectrums. What's needed in one Latino community may be completely different from what will work in another Latino community.

The questions are also difficult to answer because the problem is so often mistakenly framed in terms of improving outreach, as if the essence of the problem is simply that Latinos don't know about the services. But when Latinos, or any other underserved community, aren't responding to an agency's services, the root problem is more likely with the services themselves, rather than with the outreach. After all, when services truly match a community's needs, simple word-of-mouth does much of the outreach for you.

Still, because the Latino community as a whole is so critically underserved, and because many people are genuinely seeking solutions, we've tried to distill some of our thoughts and experiences from our time working to end violence against women in the Latino community. The solutions aren't simple. They require recognizing and uprooting deeply entrenched practices, and they require long term commitment. But few other tasks are more worth doing, both to set things right for communities that have been unfairly underserved, and to accomplish the overall goal of ending violence against women.

There is truth in the saying that violence against women cuts across all races and socioeconomic classes. But ironically, this time worn adage tends to obscure a more urgent truth. Violence against women is heavily concentrated against women who are poor, young, and disadvantaged; generally the same women who for so long have been underserved.

It's impossible to end violence against women and girls until we prioritize the needs of those who are most oppressed by the violence. Reshaping our services and advocacy to meet these needs isn't just an agenda item. It's a necessary, powerful, and very promising breakthrough step toward liberating all women from violence.

We hope this text serves as a springboard for your own thinking. And we trust you'll rely mainly on working with your own local Latino community to set your course. And though this discussion is aimed at improving violence-against-women services to Latino communities, we hope it might also prove useful to improving many kinds of services to any underserved group.

Good Outreach to Underserved Communities Starts and Ends with Ongoing Insight.


A. Establish Mechanisms that Assure Ongoing Evaluation of Your Own Programs.

Evaluating your programs against the specific needs of the Latino community should be an ongoing task. This requires establishing organization mechanisms and schedules that keep this work from sliding off the agenda. For example, establish a set block of time in each staff meeting for this work. Keep a central running log of comments and suggestions where all staff must give input. Establish rotating assignments for gathering relevant information, such as reporting back on your community demographics, language access law, rural transportation problems, immigration law, etc.. Keep it all focused on the goal of developing a working set of problems that need to be solved.

An essential part of the process is to regularly consult your Latino coworkers, clients, and others in the Latino community: "Why aren't Latinas using our agency in proportion to their population?" "What's working and what's not working?" "What obstacles need to be overcome?"

Examples of beginning answers for a particular agency may sound something like this.

The Latino population of our community is being underserved because:
Our Latino population is concentrated in rural, agricultural areas where the transportation is very bad.
Our Latino population is mostly first generation immigrant, and they're afraid that seeking help could result in deportation.
Latinas are more afraid to speak about sexual violence than anglo women.
Latinas aren't aware we have people on our staff who speak Spanish.


B. Don't Let the Identified Problems Devolve into Excuses! Aim Hard at Making Sure the Problems Get Solved!

Many organizations are successful in getting to the point of listing the obstacles. Too often what happens next is that the identified obstacles become excuses, or even institutionalized justifications, for not fully serving the Latino community. Solving the problems all too often gets moved to the back burner.

All staff need to understand both the legal and moral imperatives of finding and implementing solutions!

  • Federal and state civil rights laws prescribe that an organization cannot take public dollars (which dollars come from all members of the society, including from non-documented members), and then spend those dollars in a way that favors one group - particularly in a way that favors the dominant social group.

  • As such, any problem which leads to underserving a minority group (particularly an historically underserved group) is a problem the organization is obligated to solve.

  • The historical failure to correct these problems requires that implementing solutions needs to be prioritized.

  • Our shared missions of ending violence against women also compel us to prioritize the solutions. Remember, the patriarchy is strong off the backs of the great populations of women who have been left behind.

  • Many of the obstacles to fully serving the Latino community are invisibly built into organization structures because most organizations have been built around the needs of the dominant community. These internal barriers should be identified and eliminated.

    NOTE: A helpful exercise that illuminates the last point is to explore the ways in which hidden barriers to the Latino community have been built into your own program. One obvious example of a built in barrier to Latinos would be an organization that has no bilingual capability. But there are many less evident, but equally discriminatory barriers lurking deep in organization structures and histories that need to be identified and remedied.

    For example, an organizational decision to deliver services from a centralized office can effectively prohibit low income rural families from using the services. Or an organization that hasn't built in the expertise to respond knowledgeably to victim immigration and deportation fears is an organization that likely fosters distrust in an immigrant community. A staff that doesn't look deep enough into their organization structures won't see these hidden barriers and will likely proclaim vehemently that it doesn't discriminate, further undermining a foundation of trust with underserved communities.

At the same time, as beneficial as such discussions and exercises can be, it's important to watch out that they don't bog down and take the place of the primary task of getting the problems solved! So for the purpose of illustration, here's a sample set of solutions that correspond to the sample problems presented above. (All of these are some of the solutions that we have applied to these problems in our community.)

The rural, agricultural transport problem: We give staff permission and parameters to go the clients; to meet the client at her home or at a location chosen by the client near her home, at least for the first meeting. All staff takes the time with the client to step-by-step work out the details and back-up plans for the client's transport. Get taxi companies to donate free round trips for critical court dates or meetings, etc.
The fears of deportation: We organized, lobbied, and obtained resolutions from our city councils that law enforcement will not inform INS when any undocumented crime victims or witnesses use police services. We organized with others to end all local police participation in INS raids. And we publicized loudly along the way.
Latinas don't talk about sexual violence: This is myth and stereotype. We educated our staff and community to the ongoing, vociferous, and very public feminist movement against sexual violence going on in Mexico. Every client's comfort level - Latina or not - should be gauged on an individual basis, etc.
Latinas don't realize we have Spanish-speakers: All phone message recordings, all handouts and written materials must be bilingual. We did regular handouts of these materials at supermarkets and clinics in Latino neighborhoods, and made full use of our Spanish language radio, etc.


C. Each Individual in the Organization Should Understand that They - Each and Everyone - Has an Equal Responsibility to Meet the Needs of the Latino/a Clients and Community.

 A very common organization error is to hire Latinos/as with the idea that they are being hired to deal with the Latino community. Whether spoken or unspoken, the underlying policy attitude is, "We hired Angelica and Milagro to deal with the Latino population."

This common approach is profoundly flawed. It's a strategy that inevitably results in a harmful ghettoizing of services to the Latino community. It's also a strategy that is likely illegal when carried out by public agencies or by any organization that receives any public funds. (This includes most rape and domestic violence centers.) In addition, such a strategy likely constitutes illegal employment discrimination against the staff person who gets assigned to serve a specific community as defined by race or sex - whether that assignment is given overtly or occurs by default.

Here are some of the harms that result when an organization has either a formal or informal practice of relegating Latino staff to handle Latino clients:

  • It robs the Latino community of equal access to full use of the organization's activities, services, and skills.
  • It sends a message to the Latino population that they are relegated to the 'Latino section'.
  • It likely constitutes illegal employment discrimination against Angelica and Milagro, and doubly so if they are called on to translate for other people's cases or tasks (unless they were specifically hired as translators).
  • It perpetuates the very divisions and inequalities which our missions seek to abolish. In fact, it further strengthens and institutionalizes those racial divides and walls. It creates a two tiered system of service and advocacy. It splits the staff. 'Separate but equal' is never equal. It is always inherently inferior and discriminatory, no matter how skillful Angelica and Milagro may be.
  • It perpetuates the cultural ignorance and cultural privilege of those staff persons who are not working with the Latino community. It blocks the essential first hand cross-cultural learning and awareness that other staff must develop in order for them to fulfill their obligations to the Latino community, and to fully understand their community as a whole. As such, it undermines all the other hard work that's being done to end violence against women.

This principle that each and every staff person is equally responsible to serve the Latino or any other underserved population is so important that it's worth looking at it from other angles, and then responding to some of the objections that often arise.

Consider that a teacher can choose to specialize in teaching history, and as such, can turn away students that want a math course. This teacher has specialized in a task. It is illegal, however, for that same teacher, even though she may not speak Spanish, to refuse to teach Latino children, or refuse to teach Spanish-speaking children. Latino is not a task. Latinos are people. You can't discriminate against people on the basis of race. Note: Further on we discuss how Spanish language attaches to race, though this should be obvious.

Or, a steak restaurant can refuse to serve someone who insists on a vegan meal. But the same restaurant cannot refuse to serve someone because they are black, or because they speak Creole.

Or, look at it from this angle. You, as a female, have completed the police academy, have gotten hired by a police department, and then you are assigned to work with, or you're funneled to work with, only female citizens, or only those crimes that mostly affect females. This is discrimination. It's illegal. And you would be outraged!

The exact rules by which these principles must be applied are a work in progress as a myriad different organizational circumstances are continually brought into our courts. But the legal and moral principles of equal access, and of nondiscrimination by race or sex in delivery or assignment of services are solidly established. Still, many people who believe themselves committed to these principles, become confused and headed down the wrong road when dealing with the complication of language barriers. A common objection made by monolingual staff on considering their responsibility to serving the Latino community is this:

"But, I don't speak Spanish!" It's interesting, because almost no one working in the violence against women movement today would allow themselves to say, "I don't work with clients in wheelchairs because they can't make it up the flight of stairs to my office." Likewise, very few would say, "I don't work with deaf people because I don't know sign language." Almost every violence against women organization has long ago recognized its obligation to the deaf community, has connected to deaf interpreter services, and trained all staff on how to use the deaf interpreter services. The disconnect from these principles when it comes to people who don't speak English is especially disturbing because the percentage of non English-speakers in every community is so much greater than the percentage of wheelchair bound and deaf persons put together.

So once more for clarity. The fact that a staff person doesn't speak Spanish doesn't relieve them from your equal obligation to meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking victims of violence against women.

It's true that speaking Spanish is a skill. But it's a skill so tightly attached to an historically underserved minority race, that refusing to deal with Spanish-speaking clients because you don't speak Spanish amounts to a form of racial discrimination. So if Jane, your outreach worker, doesn't speak Spanish, it's wrong, in principle, for all the reasons listed above, for Jane to opt out of doing outreach to the Spanish-speaking community, and to insist that bilingual Antonia who was hired as an advocate, assume that task. And it's wrong to have Antonia jump up from whatever she's doing, over and over, every time a Spanish-speaker walks in the door or calls on the phone. Antonia is not a receptionist, and the Latina client has a right to access your full services - including your specialist outreach and receptionist services.

There can be flexibility in reaching the nondiscrimination goals, but the tendency to backslide into a system segregated by language is so strong, that there needs to be constant vigilance to the goal of making every level of the organization multi-language-competent.

There are so many ways, in addition to speaking Spanish, that an organization can and should make it possible for all staff to overcome language barriers and be able to fulfill their obligations to the full community. Public service organizations can and should:

  • Hire or contract competent interpreters, and train all staff to be competent in the skills of using interpreters.
  • Sign up with a national phone bank of professional interpreters (such as the Language Line), and train all staff in the use of that service.
  • Hire more bilingual personnel. (But don't make them work as interpreters unless that is their job description and skill. See note below.)
  • Make commitment to working across language barriers a priority job and hiring requirement for every position in the organization. Write this requirement into your job descriptions.

(See Comprehensive, Competent Language Access www.justicewomen.com/help_cclafsonomacounty.html)

In this day and age, there's just no excuse. All staff - board members, administrators, receptionists, advocates, fund raisers, etc. - should be trained in how to cross language barriers with ease, and should be provided the means to do so routinely.

NOTE: Here's a case example of what happened to an organization in our county that refused to recognize these principles that all staff must perform their job description to all clients without discrimination - even across language barriers. In 2004, our county probation department had 4 bilingual (Spanish) probation officers out of a total of 107 probation officers. (Imagine! This in a county where one in five speak Spanish.) Everyday, from the moment these bilingual probation officers got to work until the end of the day, they would be jerked around arbitrarily to interpret on other officers' Spanish-speaking case loads, or to answer other people's Spanish language phone calls, or to interpret at the front desk when Spanish speakers walked in the front door.

After a year of futile requests to their supervisors to correct the problem, the bilingual officers felt they had no other option than to go on an 'interpreting strike'. They refused to interpret in all work related tasks except on their own case loads. The chief of probation, Cora Guy, responded to the 'interpreting strike' by ordering the bilingual officers to resume interpreting or be disciplined, up to and including firing. So the bilingual officers took their case to the California state labor board, and they won! The state labor board correctly decided that the bilingual officers cannot be ordered to interpret for other probation officers' cases, and the probation department finally had to solve the problem properly. (To see more on this case, go to Bilingual Officer's Victory at www.justicewomen.com/help_officers.html.)

"But why should a client ever have to suffer the difficulty of working with an interpreter?" One reason people believe that working with an interpreter is intrinsically burdensome for clients is because there is such rampant use of unqualified interpreters and virtually no staff training anywhere on how to properly use an interpreter. Not surprisingly, this leads to so many bad experiences that people make the blanket assumption that all interpreting means inferior communication.

The key word is competence. Use competent interpreters, train all staff in how to work competently with interpreters, and the difficulties for clients are minimal or none at all. When conversations are interpreted properly, the interpreter magically disappears from the conversation. You can easily prove this to yourself any day of the week just by sitting through a criminal court proceeding where victim and defendant don't speak English. Every word of multiple contentious players is so quickly and accurately interpreted back and forth that the court room and all its complexities doesn't miss a beat, as if the interpreter isn't there at all. Granted, most organizations cannot afford to hire interpreters certified at the court interpreter level. But most organizations don't need to. Two-person conversations don't require near the high wire interpreter skills required in the courtroom. (See Quick Tips for Using an Interpreter at www.justicewomen.com/help_interpreter.html.)

We routinely talk with clients for whom the police have used professional telephone translators to take her report. Without exception, the women not only claim there was no difficulty in making the report, but they also claimed they felt confident and grateful that their words were translated accurately, and that police cared enough to get their words accurately. (Naturally, when police improperly use neighbors or family members to translate, results are usually disastrous, especially for victims of rape and domestic violence.) It's worth repeating. The key to successfully overcoming language barriers is competence.

Most importantly, any occasional inconvenience a client may experience working with a competent interpreter is more than outweighed by the immense empowerment, both to individuals and communities, of knowing that the organization has built in an assurance that the community will have full equal access to the full range of organization services. Use of professional interpreters also relieves women of the anxiety they are dependent on just one or two officers or staff who can speak Spanish. Using interpreters tells the client in one unequivocal action that the power of the whole system is open to her.

And more. A policy of using professional interpreters opens the hearts and minds of the non-Spanish-speaking staff to the realities of the Latino community. All in all, an organization that develops full language competence has made a giant step toward tearing down the walls! Not just to the Latino community. The bonus of making the whole organization language competent is that now you can serve every non English speaker in your community with no extra effort.

And more. It's the law! Federal law requires that limited English-speakers be given "Meaningful Access" to all activities and programs of any organization which receives any federal funds. California law requires that limited English-speakers have "Equal Access" to all activities and programs of any organization which receives any state funds.

"But I'm the fund raiser. Why should I go out of my way to take money from the Latino community?" Because in order for Latinos feel completely free to use the services, to feel ownership in the services, and to feel completely free to criticize the services, it's critical that Latinos be given equal opportunity to invest in the services.

No matter what your job description within an organization, you must give equal attention to the Latino community and Latina clients. If there are obstacles in the way, then those obstacles have to be removed. It's a point we keep repeating. Racial and language divides can't be allowed to persist, particularly in organizations whose mission it is to eliminate oppressions.


D. Recruit and Hire to Make Your Visions for Change a Reality
Few would dispute that one of the most effective ways to promote rapid social change in an organization is by hiring dynamite people who already have their passions and talents fixed on the goals. Yet all too often the potential of the hiring opportunity is lost because of failure to first do a deep restructuring of the organization's hiring process.
  • Start by implanting your visions for change into job descriptions and job requirements. Care in reworking job descriptions and job requirements can transform your visions for change into working blueprints. Naturally, the specifics will vary with job category and the needs of your community. But one thing you'll almost certainly want to work into every job is the requirement of commitment to serving the whole community, to working across language barriers, and across any of the other barriers you've identified regarding the Latino community. Additionally, you'll want to specify levels of knowledge and experience with the barriers that need to be crossed. Be as specific as possible in how you word this for each job category. For example, if there is a large immigrant Latino population in your community, you'll probably want to make some knowledge and experience with immigrant issues be a part of all your job descriptions and requirements.

    Not only will new job descriptions focus your search, they also broadcast a clear message that your commitment to the Latino or other underserved communities has moved beyond lip service. In addition, the new job descriptions and requirements can also set your course to a more diverse workforce.

    Few issues lead to more pitched and protracted battles than questions of racial hiring quotas, affirmative action, and racial preference hiring. But by writing job descriptions and requirements that aim for people capable of reaching underserved communities you can get beyond the contentious issue of racial hiring quotas to the clear logic of your new job requirements. These new job requirements themselves will automatically lead to diversity.

  • Break out of old recruiting molds! You'll never catch a whale if you keep fishing in mountain streams, no matter how sweet the bait. Go into the communities you want to serve. Talk to teachers in the schools. They know the parents. Go into the health clinics, ESL classes, the Latino businesses and markets. Walk the streets! Use the Spanish language radio.

    Don't hesitate to do some aggressive head hunting, too. If you know someone you want who's working at related job, figure out what it's going to take to lure that person to you, and go for it.

    Use the Internet effectively. Join Email lists that blow open your recruitment pool, Email lists of paralegal, hairdressers, progressive media groups, Chicana writers groups, English as a second language groups, new moms, Gloria Trevi fans, human rights groups, ... There are thousands of these lists. It takes a couple minutes to join them, and a minute more to send them your job announcement. Sure the interested person may be on the other side of the country. But if they're the right person, and you can usually find out in a series of phone calls, it can be way worth a plane ticket.

  • Revamp your interview questions and panels. This requires thought. Because no one will come to a job interview and say, "I want to advocate for women, but I don't feel like working with Latinas." So you have to develop a set of questions that probes beneath the multicultural clichés that virtually everyone has learned to spout. You need screening and interview questions that will quickly separate out the pretenders.

    Equally as important as designing good questions is grouping the right panel to do the interviews. It's important that in addition to your organization interviewers you bring in a respected civil rights worker, a farm worker organizer, or an immigrant rights worker, to sit on your interview panel with you. They can bring just the fresh perspective that can help you spot who you're looking for.

NOTE: In hiring for interpreters and in hiring for bilingual personnel it is crucial to have the language capabilities tested professionally. Some people have spoken Spanish at home but never studied or used Spanish as their adult working language. They speak what is referred to as 'kitchen Spanish'. Others learned Spanish in academia and never used the language in real life. So you should bring in language professionals to assure that you hire persons who are literate in real life written and spoken Spanish. Another common misconception in evaluating bilingual skills is to assume that persons who are bilingual can serve as adequate interpreters. This isn't true. Interpreting requires specialized training and skills that go beyond being bilingual. Spanish-speaking victims of violence against women deserve accurate, competent language interpretation.

If you can't find a language professional in your area, companies like the Language Line have personnel who can long distance do professional written and spoken language testing. Check their web site 'interpreter and bilingual staff testing and training' page at http://www.languageline.com/page/llu/.


E. Know the Demographic Fine Points of your Latino Community. It Makes a Big Difference.
Know what percentage of your Latino community are recent immigrants, what percentage are Spanish-speaking, rural or urban, migrant or resident, etc. Know the age distribution, the distribution in which schools, health services, and neighborhoods, etc. Develop organizational knowledge of the main countries and regions of origin of your Latino community, and the reasons for the migrations. In this day and age of the Internet you can get so much of this information in no time.

Know the array of cultural and political organizations in your community that serve your Latino population. Meet with them. Report back and educate all staff.

And don't forget to ask your clients directly. Although the women you serve are in crisis, there's always five minutes here or there to ask about their and their families' stories. These moments can do wonders for your client's sense that you see her to be more than a set of case details. And the stories themselves will educate you and other staff in the way that a library full of books could never do.

Display maps, photos, artwork, and children's books throughout your office that represent the countries and regions of origin of the major immigrant groups of your service area. Imagine being in crisis and afraid in a foreign country. Imagine the impact of then walking into a strange office for help and the first thing you see on the walls are images from your homeland. You would instantly feel relief the organization as a whole welcomes you. Putting up vibrant visual materials that represent your underserved communities also serves as a constant, and very positive reminder to everyone on staff of the changes the organization wants to make.


F. Uncover and Eliminate Harmful Staff Stereotypes about the Latino Community
Even the most well meaning people harbor harmful stereotypes about the non-dominant social groups, including members of the non-dominant group themselves. This is because the dominant group's views of just about everything are the prevailing views. These views rarely get questioned, and they are naturally, always self-serving. So it's crucial to bring these stereotypes out in the open and combat them.

Here are just four stereotypes about Latinos that we hear all the time from well meaning people, and a fact or two that might surprise you.

"Latinas are culturally much more accepting of domestic violence." In general, the current violence against women movement in many parts of Latin America is in a much more militant phase than the current US violence against women movement. One of the great pleasures of working with so many immigrant women from Latin America is to be in touch with the power and clarity of feminist energy moving through the young generation of Latinas. It's a very hopeful antidote to the current more dormant state of the US violence against women movement.
"Latino males are hopelessly macho." In our community, we have had more Latino males - neighbors, brothers, fathers, social workers, etc. - contact us on behalf of victims, or accompany those victims, than from any other culture. Or consider this. When is the last time you heard of the Mexican army declaring war, or initiating a 'shock and awe' bombing campaign, on another country?
"It's culturally acceptable among Latinos for adult males to have sexual relations with teen girls." Maybe that's what the men say. But just ask Latino mothers what they think. Defense attorneys try this 'cultural defense' all the time, until we get the Latino mothers to have their say.
"Latinas don't believe in abortion." Latinas in the United States have a 30% higher rate of abortion than that of the US general population. Women in Latin America have double the rate of induced abortion than women in the US. Every year, 800.000 women are hospitalized in Latin America due to abortion injuries resulting from the horrific methods they are forced to resort because abortion is illegal.

Having now criticized all stereotypes as harmful, we nonetheless have some stereotypes about the Latino community that guide our work.

  • In general, Latina victims of violence against women face more and greater obstacles in their attempts to get free of the violence than women in the dominant culture.
  • The Latino community is a hugely diverse population.
  • US feminists should learn about and pay close attention to the present day Latino and Hispanic feminist movements in Spain, Latin America, and the US. You will be moved!


G. Develop Organization-wide Language Competency: Make All staff Competent at Crossing Language Barriers, and Provide Them With the Means to do so Routinely.

We've touched on the topic of language competency in earlier sections. But developing language competency is so essential to improving service to the Latino community that we refer you to the resources on the topic we've gathered on our web site:

It's the Law

Language Line Information

Quick Tips for Using an Interpreter

From Barrier to Barring the Door - Case Stories

Comprehensive, Competent Language Access

And more... http://www.justicewomen.com/tips_index.html#vlr


H. Develop Expertise on Obstacles that Disproportionately Block Latinas' Liberation from Violence Against Women.
Some obstacles faced by Latinas and their community in the struggle to end violence against women are the same obstacles faced by the dominant community - except those obstacles are generally bigger for Latinas. Money, for example, is an obstacle for most women, but, in general, it's a bigger obstacle for Latinas.

Other obstacles are unique to the Latino community, or disproportionately burden the Latino community. Organizations that don't develop some level of expertise in overcoming these obstacles are, in effect, discriminating against Latinos, in the same way that an organization that hasn't installed an entrance ramp is, in effect, discriminating against persons in wheelchairs. So it's a must to develop organizational expertise in advocating on obstacles that block the liberation of underserved groups, even when the obstacles have little or no effect on the dominant social culture.

Here's a partial list of obstacles that disproportionately burden Latinas. (Keep in mind they may be more or less significant depending on the individual or particular sector of the Latino community):

The language barrier: In addition to recognizing language barriers in your own organization, it's critical to recognize that monolingual Spanish-speakers frequently encounter language discrimination and incompetence at every step of their attempts to get free of violence. So it's crucial to educate and advocate to end language discrimination in all community responders to violence against women. The persistent failures of so many police to provide proper language interpretation poses particularly severe risks to victims of violence against women. Overcoming police resistance to providing proper language interpretation to victims is a constant struggle we have to undertake if we're serious about protection and justice for all women.

Deportation fears: Many Latina victims are paralyzed by fears that they may be deported if they report or leave an abuser, or that the perpetrator or witnesses may be deported, or that the perpetrator can carry out his threats to get the victim deported. Organizations not only have to be knowledgeable enough on immigration and deportation issues to respond to individual circumstances, but also to educate the Latino community overall so immigrant women aren't so frozen in fear they won't even make the first phone call for help.

Fear of Police and Criminal Justice Officials: Many Latina victims have an overwhelming fear of police and criminal justice officials because of the repressive tactics of these officials in their country of origin. Many Latinas and other women of color fear police and criminal justice officials because of the repressive tactics of those officials right here in the United States. Police brutality and repressive justice system tactics against minority males make many women of color very reluctant to call police on their abusers no matter how badly they have been brutalized by the perpetrator themselves. Police brutality of minority males is a feminist issue.

Housing: Housing problems, much like money problems, affect all women. But there are unique aspects to housing problems that disproportionately burden Latinas. For example, many Latinas live in housing projects where landlords do things like evict everyone whenever police are called to deal with the crime of one inhabitant. And another example: Extreme overcrowding in housing situations, particularly in immigrant communities, combines with a common tenant configuration that creates extreme risk for violence against women and children. Households in immigrant communities are frequently made up of one female, her husband, their children, plus many young adult males who are not family members. This gives rise to very high rates of sexual violence and abuse. Knowledgeable advocacy on housing issues is vital to freeing Latinas from violence against women.

Extension of the Violence into the Country of Origin: Many, many Latinas fear that the perpetrator will carry out threats to harm her family in their country of origin. Or they fear that he will abduct children across the border. Rape and domestic violence centers need a working knowledge of resources available to deal with these cross border issues.

Lack of Knowledge and Misconceptions of Women's Rights in the US: Here's just one example. In most Latin American countries it's against the law for a married woman to abandon the home. It's called 'abandono de hogar'. Many Latinas believe they can be similarly arrested here in the US if they flee the home, particularly if they do so with children. There are many such misconceptions that need to be anticipated and addressed on a community wide basis in order for women to feel free to take even the first steps to getting help.

Racial Discrimination: Is Everywhere! And in all the services your client will encounter. Just because you've known an individual cop or victim compensation advocate to be a nice person does not mean they will treat your Latina client with the same respect. Acknowledge, anticipate, and protect your client from racism. It's alive and well everywhere. Develop a working knowledge of civil rights law. Advocate to end racism. If we don't, violence against women will never end.

Transport and Navigation: Immigrant women, in particular, have overwhelming problems with transportation and navigation. Learn from third world countries! Their most successful social and health services go to the people. They don't make the people go to them. Kitchen table advocacy, 'promotoras', neighborhood based community workers are all well established, tried and true traditions in all Latin American countries. Learn from them.

Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Latinas are primary targets of prostitution and sex trafficking victimization, both here in the US and in Latin America. These systems of abuse perpetrate the sum total of every oppressive tactic men use against women. Rape and domestic violence centers have to develop services that liberate the women and girls from the terrible machinery of these abuses.

Educate the Whole Community about these obstacles, not just the Latino community. It's crucial to educate the dominant community on these issues, because, in general, it's the dominant community dragging its feet that is responsible for the persistence of these problems. And it's the dominant community that has the means and obligations to help solve them.

Finally, to Outreach to the Latino Community

You've probably already gotten the idea that we believe it's the internal agency work that provides the foundation for your outreach. In fact, the closer you bring your services to meet the Latino community's needs, the less outreach you'll have to do.

Still, we have some great outreach favorites to the Latino community we'd like to pass on to you. Here are five:

Supermarkets in the Latino community. Take hundreds of agency information cards, bilingual of course, and hand them out to everyone going into the supermarket for three hours on Saturday mornings. Talk with everyone. Everyone! Don't wait for people to come to you. Young, old, male, female, couples, singles, groups of teens. Everyone. Tell them about your organization. Ask for a donation. Tell them everyone has to be part of the solution. (Naturally, if people want to walk away, let them.)

It's fun. Everyone goes to the supermarket. Teachers, homeless people, students, mothers, bums, social workers, clergy, perpetrators, teenagers.....absolutely everyone. You never know who's coming next. After three hours you've met the community, heard many of their stories, made critical connections, gotten a read on their attitudes about violence against women, added to your mailing list, made speaking engagements, made some money (cash), and when you get back to your phone, you'll always have new clients waiting. The key is you have to talk to the people, and have a good time doing it.

Spanish language radio stations. All radio stations. Radio is a wonderful, magical medium for women. It's intimate. It reaches deep into isolated areas. Women listen to radio while they work and care for kids. Even if you don't have Spanish language radio, use the English language radio to reach out to the Latino community. Not only are there many Latinos who speak English, but many people who work with, live by, and care about Latinos listen to radio. Also, don't forget to use the English language radio to educate the dominant culture on how to get involved in helping solve the problems faced by the Latino community.

But if you have Spanish language radio stations, especially Spanish language public radio, as we do, you're in luck. Get to know the full programming schedule and the staff. Try to establish a weekly call in show if you can.

Community Clinics and Family Planning Clinics: The one place even the most abusive men usually allow women to go to on their own is to family planning or OB/GYN clinics. Plus, for once in her hectic life, many women have nothing else to do while sitting in the waiting room than to read whatever literature is laying around. And there's no one looking over her shoulder. So make sure you keep your local clinics loaded up with your literature.

The Internet: Here's another common stereotype about Latinos "Latinos aren't on the Internet." Wrong! In the US, over 71% of Latinos under 35 years of age are on the net. In Latin America, use of the Internet has lagged behind that in the US. But, now, the advent of DSL has allowed Latin Americans to bypass their defective wired infrastructure and they're flocking to the net, too. Latin American Internet use has increased by 400% in the last four years.

We have an average of over 1600 people using our bilingual web site every day, and a solid 50% of the pages accessed on our site are the Spanish language pages. The Internet is one dynamite of an invention for women that allows us to tunnel through barriers of isolation and fear as never before. Use it!

ESL Classes: ESL (English as a Second Language) classes are the motherlode of Latinos on the move. Everyone in ESL classes is a person who is investing themselves in the goal of crossing the language barrier. They are leaders, go-getters, the movers and shakers. Create every possible opportunity to go to these classes, to educate, learn, and recruit.

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

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