Sunday, August 28, 2011

Helping Latinos Fight Domestic Violence

This post is inspired by my communication with HOEF executive director Julia LeBlanc, who asked me to develop a list of suggestions for helping Latino communities fight domestic violence.  This post is divided into 3 parts: general tips for Latino communities, specific tips for Latino communities, and applicable lessons from Africa and the Middle East.

General Suggestions for Latinas confronting DV in the U.S.:
1.        You don’t need to remove the man from the home in order to receive support services and counseling for the woman and children.  You and your children can still receive this assistance even if you decide to remain with your partner.
2.       You don’t need to speak English in order to receive services.  Increasingly services are being made available in Spanish for abused women and children throughout the country, including Deep South states which have witnessed a more recent immigration of Latinos to their areas.  In addition, the courts have Spanish language interpreters so that you can testify in U.S. courts in your native language. 
3.        If you are an illegal immigrant, you and your children cannot be deported because you testify against your abuser.  The U Visa and several other programs are available to allow you and your children to legally remain in the USA once you have testified against your batterer in court.

Specific sources of inspiration and hope for challenging DV in the U.S. Latino community:

1.Increasing numbers of men in Latin America are challenging DV and child abuse, as shown through the increasing participation of men in the White Ribbon project in Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico.  The White Ribbon project is an effort started by Canadian men to challenge DV against women.  Men wear white ribbons to work as a sign of solidarity with abused women and to encourage abused women to seek their direct support.   Men are joining the struggle against DV in some of the most historically repressive and conflict-ridden countries in Latin America with terrible histories of state-sponsored violence and economic and racial oppression.

2.Latino men are increasingly joining the struggle against DV in the United States.  In 2008, Unidos launched a project where Latino men publicly pledge to live non-violent lives on Father’s Day.
DV Alianza arranged Latino Men Speak Outs against Domestic Violence in 2005, 2006, and 2007 to give Latino men the forum to directly challenge domestic violence.  These kinds of programs and events are essential to giving Latino men the voice to challenge DV. - Victor Rivers, a Cuban-born survivor of severe physical child abuse from his father and a witness to domestic violence against his mother, wrote his inspirational tale of his own successful struggle against child abuse.  He is also an actor and a husband and father. 

3.More and more Latino men are devoting their professional careers to the struggle against domestic violence.  These men are making substantial contributions to the field through their work with battered men, their scholarly contributions to understanding domestic violence from a liberated Latino male perspective, and their solidarity with abused women.  These men include Antonio Ramirez Hernandez,, Fernando Mederos, Ricardo Carrillo, Ph.D., Rolando Gouboud-Reyna, L.C.S.W., Samuel Martínez, L.C.S.W, Jerry Tello, M.A, Manuel Colorado-Reyes, and Dr. Etiony Aldarondo.

4.       More and more programs are targeting teen girls in Spanish in the United States in an attempt to break the cycle of dating violence before it turns into marital violence and child abuse.  These kinds of prevention and awareness campaigns are essential to reaching teenage girls before the violence spreads further. and

5.Cultural awareness of the underlying political conditions in Latin America, preferably on a country-specific basis,  is essential to developing effective programs to help Latino families successfully defeat domestic violence.  “For example, an an entire group of El Salvadorian fathers refused to sign up for a job-training program when they were informed that a requirement of the program was to register with the Selective Service (military).” Page 18 (Fatherhood Lessons).  The men were reacting to their historical and cultural experience of terror and abuse at the hands of the Salvadoran military regime.  In El Salvador, the regime routinely kidnapped young men from their homes and communities and forcibly inducted them intoF the military, where they were often beaten and brutalized as conscripts.  In addition, the military regime also forced young male conscripts to participate in horrific atrocities against civilians, including murder, during the Salvadoran civil war which killed tens of thousands of people. A cultural understanding of the experience of persecuted Salvadoran refugees would have led to increased sensitivity to their fears about the military. 

In addition, child support collection programs which target delinquent Latino fathers need to take into account the fact that Latinos have a typically broader view of the range of their financial responsibilities.  Latinos have a stronger sense of extended family than do most white Americans, and so Latino men may feel responsible to support not only their former wives and children but also their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  This reality should not be used as an excuse to allow Latino men to fail to pay child support, but this cultural perspective needs to be understood.   (page 20, Fatherhood Lessons).      

6.Informing immigrant women of their rights to receive a U visa for themselves and their children and stay legally in this country can be life-saving.  Graciela Beines, 50, an undocumented immigrant from Argentina, endured a two year abusive relationship in the United States in which she was repeatedly beaten and pressured to quit two jobs.  She says she never would have endured this abuse if she had known her legal rights as an undocumented immigrant woman.
7.  Just because a woman doesn’t successfully leave her abuser the first time doesn’t mean that she won’t ultimately find the courage to leave her abuser. A woman may take many attempts before she is finally able to leave her abuser permanently.  Irma endured an 18 year long abusive relationship starting in her native El Salvador when she was just 14 years old.  She tried to leave her abuser three times unsuccessfully before she finally found her way to an 18 month transition program.  She left her abuser along with her three children, learned English, got a part-time job, and attended community college.
8.  Increasing levels of services are available for Spanish-speaking residents in the United States. In 1988, the Morivivi program was started by the Violence Intervention Program.  This program offered the first bilingual shelter in New York City.  Today the shelter has 8 apartment sites for battered women and their children.
A National bilingual hotline for domestic violence was started by the U.S. government in 2001.  In addition, Casa de Esperanza has a program in Minnesota which has become a national model for helping Latino communities confront domestic violence.  The staff is 72% Latina, and the board is 80% Latina.  The Caza de Esperanza board consists primarily of Latina corporate executives who presumably use their connections and experience in the corporate world to contribute to the struggle against Latino domestic violence.
9. One factor contributing to domestic violence may be the comparable lack of male access to parenting support.  Just 31% of Latino men had access to parenting support, compared with 53% of Latina women.  (page 9) Thus, increasing parenting support for Latino men could be a strategy to challenge domestic violence in the Latino community.
Some traditional values associated with the Latino community can be used to help Latino men and women fight domestic violence.  At least two traditional cultural influences were identified by a study called Forum on Latino Men who Batter on page 13 as ways to challenge domestic violence.
First of all, the concept of the non-violent and honorable man can provide a powerful counterpoint to the stereotype of the macho Latino man who shows his manhood by battering.  This concept is expressed in Spanish with the saying “El hombre que le levanta la mano a una mujer, no es un hombre.”  The saying is translated as “The man who hits a woman, is not a man.”  This concept is also the source of a global Face book campaign against domestic violence entitled “A Real Man Doesn’t Hit a Woman.”
The second useful concept is the notion of honor and shame.  The idea is that when a man hits a woman, he brings shame to himself and his ancestors.  This idea is expressed in Spanish with the concept that “Un hombre sin verguenza es un descarado.”  In English the saying means “A man without shame is a man without face.”  This notion of shame and honor can help men to take responsibility for their own actions and not minimize or justify violence against their partner and children.
Optional Section: Applicable Lessons From Africa and the Middle East
11.  African societies also offer powerful models for challenging domestic violence which can be directly applied to Latinos in the United States and to Latin American men.  A program in Kenya is called Men for Gender Equality (MEGEN). 
A.The program was started by an African woman, Njoki Wainaina, who grew up in an egalitarian household where her father was the leading feminist and advocate for an end to female genital mutilation and forced marriage of girls and for increasing women’s education.  Njoki says that her father’s experience and her program shows “that there are many men even in the most traditional and patriarchal societies that believe in and support gender equality. These men need to be reached, encouraged, empowered and mobilized to become part of the movement of men who are committed to the fight against gender-based violence.”  Page 5. If egalitarian men can be successfully mobilized in Kenya to fight domestic violence, then clearly they can also be mobilized in Latin America and among U.S. Latinos to fight for gender equality and an end to male violence against women and children.
B.In addition, one father who joined the program against domestic violence in Kenya was motivated by his desire to protect his daughter from being abused.  “Afterwards, I had a candid man-to-man talk with one of the members. He challenged me on what I was doing as a man and as a father to ensure that our daughters were not at the mercy of some man wielding his manhood.” Page 9

This story reminds me of the fact that many men in patriarchal societies are powerfully motivated by a profound desire to protect their daughters from being abused by their male partners.   Certainly many Latin American and U.S. Latino fathers would be just as interested in protecting their daughters from abuse as this father in Kenya. 

C. In Muslim societies similarly, men are driven to protect the “honor” of their daughters and sisters from being ‘violated’ by unwanted sexual contact outside marriage.  This logic can lead men to murder their daughters and sisters for engaging in sex or being raped outside marriage  in “honor killings.”  But this same protective instinct can also be turned on its head and used as a powerful basis to mobilize men in patriarchal cultures to help protect and care for their daughters.  For example, one of the few Sunni Arab revolts against Saddam Hussein in Iraq was driven by the outrage of a high-ranking member of the leading Iraqi tribe, the Dulyami, against Saddam’s son Uday for raping his daughter.  This tribal leader motivated many other leaders of his tribe to join the failed rebellion against Saddam by Sunni Arabs in 1995-96.  This example shows how men in a patriarchal society such as Latin America can be driven to take personal and political action to protect their daughters against abuse.     

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