Oregon crisis center reaches out to Latinas

SALEM — Norma Gonzalez was an interpreter even before she graduated from Willamette University in 2006.

After working with the Oregon Department of Human Services' Children, Adults and Families Division for nearly two years, Gonzalez decided to use her bilingual skills to help battered women — namely Spanish-speaking women.

"Working in child welfare, I had a lot of Latina clients who were involved with services from (Mid-Valley) Women's Crisis (Service)," Gonzalez said, "and I saw how empowered they were after being given information and resources they needed by Women's Crisis."

Gonzalez began her new job July 1 as an advocate for domestic sexual assault victims with the Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service.

"We've had the position for a while, but we hadn't hired anyone for it," said Emily Trussell, the center's sexual assault services coordinator. "This is the first time we have a sexual assault advocate."

Gonzalez's job is to focus on responding to victims of sexual assault and providing outreach to Latino families in rural Marion County and around domestic sexual trafficking of minors, Trussell said.

The nonprofit was able to hire Gonzalez after receiving a $45,000 grant in June.

The funds were part of a new federal initiative called, "Violence Against Women Act Sexual Assault Services Program," and were administered in the state by the Oregon Department of Justice.

The agency administered more than $200,000 in federal grants to five Oregon organizations, including the Mid-Valley Women's Crisis Service.

The money is to be used to serve victims of sexual assault.

Though abuse exists in all kinds of families, Latinas, especially those who are undocumented, tend to face different needs, Trussell said. "For example, we have to help a lot of these women fill out restraining orders in English because the paperwork has to go to the judge in English," Trussell said.

Spanish-speaking Latinas who suffer domestic violence also face other barriers, such as language, a lack of resources, threats of deportation for some, and misinformation about legal rights, which can lead to isolation, Trussell said.

Experts say that many Latinas — not just those who speak Spanish only — often remain in abusive relationships because of pressure by family members to stay in the marriage.

"It's difficult for abused Latinas to seek help, especially if they are Spanish-speaking only," Gonzalez said. "They're more willing to open up and talk with someone from the same culture. They feel like we know where they're coming from, that we can relate to them."

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