September 19, 2008
By Will Higgins
Hispanic women, often hampered by poor English language skills, little education and low-paying jobs, are particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse, and care providers need to do more to help them.
This was the message Thursday at a conference sponsored by the Latino Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, an Indianapolis-based group.
About 300 nurses, social workers and others from across Indiana heard from experts on how to navigate the cultural differences that can prevent a Latina from getting out of an abusive situation.
According to statistics, Latinas are abused at about the same rate as other women -- 4.3 per 1,000 compared with 4.2 per 1,000, according to the Bureau of Justice. But organizers of Thursday's conference say violence against Latinas is more likely to be underreported because of the language barrier and because many fear such things as deportation. Seven in 10 immigrant Hispanic women report their English-speaking skills are limited, according to a Pew Hispanic Center study released in May.
Bilingual interpreters are available around the clock at most Indianapolis hospital emergency rooms, but many hospitals in the outlying areas do not offer such services despite growing Hispanic populations.
In a break-out session Thursday, audience members were asked how many of their facilities -- women's shelters, emergency rooms, community centers -- had signs posted in Spanish. Only a handful of hands went up.
Organizers of the daylong conference stressed that for caregivers to be effective, they must know not only the immigrants' language, but also their culture.
"We must understand who these people are we're trying to help," said Marlene Dotson, the Latino Coalition's board chairwoman.
Many abused Latinas, the Peruvian-born Dotson said, "don't know domestic violence is a crime."
Or they don't trust the legal system to help them.
"In Latin American countries, there is law enforcement, but males get away with it," Dotson said. "Police don't always do their job. The women don't trust the system. There, you do what your husband says. We don't talk about (domestic violence). For many women, (abuse) goes on for years and years. Here, we openly talk about domestic violence and see it as a crime."
Cindikaye Johnson, a volunteer victim assistance advocate at St. Francis Hospital, attended the conference to try to learn how to help an abused woman understand she has been wronged while also respecting her culture.
"What I'm trying to learn is how to help these women and be respectful about it," Johnson said. "You don't want to damage that pride they have in their community."
It's a common dilemma for case workers, said Maria Schwieter, who runs a community center in LaPorte.
"It's a trap we fall into: 'It's their culture; don't interfere,' " Schwieter said. "But you have to draw the line. These women don't want to live that way. And we need to show them they have options."
Source: Indianapolis Star