“When I get to the
hospital I’ll talk to the victim and her mother to find out what
happened,” said Mrs. Torres-García, who notes Lucas County,
lacks trained bilingual health care providers and law
enforcement officials. “I will serve as a translator for the
police and hospital staff.”
Mrs. Torres-García will
also make sure the victim and her mother are aware of their
legal rights, what community resources are available to them and
if they desire, she’ll accompany them to follow up doctor visits
and help them fill out police reports. There is also a women’s
shelter at the YWCA.
According to national
figures only 40 percent of all rapes are reported to law
enforcement. Incidents of rape are even less likely to be
reported in the Latino community. Lucas County does not record
the number of Hispanic women who are sexually assaulted. Those
statistics only include categories for white and black people.
According to The State
of Hispanic Girls, National Coalition of Latino Health and Human
Service Organizations, one in three Latina women ages 18 to
50 responded that they have been victims of sexual abuse, more
than one third experienced re-victimization and more than 80
percent of initial incidents occurred from the age of seven.
Sexual assaults involving
Latinos in Lucas County and other counties in Ohio and Michigan
are also believed to be under-reported.
“There’s still such a
stigma to sexual assault in the Latino community,” said Mrs.
Torres-García. “Religion plays a role in it – the Catholic
Church puts an emphasis on being pure so if a woman gets raped
they are often too embarrassed or ashamed to tell anybody.
“Victims tend to turn to
family members,” said Mrs. Torres-García, but most rapes are
conducted by family members and relatives, so there is often
pressure by the family to keep quiet.
Claudia Annoni and El Centro de la Mujer
are even more reluctant to come forward because they fear
deportation, she added.
All victims of domestic
violence in the United States, regardless of immigration or
citizenship status are guaranteed basic protections under civil
and criminal law, said Claudia Annoni, the founder of
Toledo-based El Centro de la Mujer, a support group for
Spanish-speaking women who are victims of domestic violence. The
challenge is getting that information to women who don’t speak
or read English.
A victim’s basic rights
include the right to obtain a protection order, the right to
legal separation or divorce without the consent of the spouse,
the right to share certain marital property and the right to ask
for custody and financial support for children.
Victims who don’t have
legal status in the United States have options that could
prevent them from being deported; but it is not a pathway to
citizenship. A victim can petition for legal status under the
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), seek cancelation of
removal under VAWA and file for a U-non-immigrant status, said
There are even greater
challenges that must be addressed in the Latino community, she
“The culture is such a big
piece of the picture,” said Ms. Annoni. “Traditional Latina
women do not see domestic violence as violence; they see it as a
“I hate to say this, but a
lot of the blame belongs to the Catholic Church which continues
to reinforce these false beliefs that women are inferior and
must be submissive to men. So, what you have are women out there
thinking, “Well, it’s my husband, he has the right to have sex
These women have to be
deprogrammed into understanding that nobody has the right to
force them to have sex – that’s rape – not “having sex,” said
El Centro de la Mujer,
which went on hiatus earlier this year due to lack of funding,
tries to help women feel more confident, improve their
self-esteem and educate them about domestic violence and sexual
The lack of funds to
operate the program is frustrating, said Ms. Annoni because
there’s such a great need in the Toledo area for it. It wasn’t
uncommon to have 20-30 women attend weekly support sessions.
Ms. Annoni says a big part
of the problem is that many Latinos still refuse to acknowledge
the problem of domestic violence and sexual assault in their own
community. The non-Latino community is even less supportive
because they don’t view it as “their problem.”
“When you think about
proposals and grants it’s very hard to do any of that when
Toledo’s victim’s unit doesn’t keep track of Latino victims.”
Current existing resources are geared toward Caucasian women,
lack bilingual staff and don’t understand how culture plays a
very significant role when working with Latino victims,
said Ms. Annoni.
“If people don’t
understand the culture and domestic violence they can really
mess up the victim,” said Ms. Annoni. “I worked with a woman
once who had three children and someone decided to report the
abusive husband to social services and the police. The husband
was deported, but that’s not what the victim wanted and it’s her
The well-meaning person
who reported the abuse may have thought they were helping, but
their actions caused an incredible amount of trauma and grief
for the victim and her children who still had no say in what was
happening in their lives.
Deisy Madrigal, Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
“Our program’s goal is to
give the victim her voice back; to feel empowered so that they
can start thinking for themselves,” said Deisy Madrigal,
director of Family Support Services for Grand Rapids,
Michigan-based Hispanic Center of Western Michigan. “In the
U.S. we’re taught a certain way, but when you’re dealing with
other people you need to understand the additional barriers they
In addition to offering a
support group, the Hispanic Center helps victims file any
paperwork, including; police reports and personal protection
orders. Counseling services are also made available for the
victim and their children, and even the abuser if the abuser is
“We try to help people
live violence free lives; we don’t tell them you have to leave
your partner,” said Mrs. Madrigal. The Hispanic Center has been
operating a program for domestic violence and sexual assault
victims since 1999.
El Centro de la Mujer
also offers a support group that provides activities to help
empower women so that they can make better decisions.
One of the first things I
do is sit down with the women and help them create a “safety
plan,” said Ms. Annoni. The plan asks the victim to identify
patterns, such as when does the abuse usually occur, and who can
they call for help, and develop a code that will tip off a
friend that they are in danger. Victims should also have
important paperwork, such as a green card stored away in a safe
Other important tips
victims should always remember: Avoid the bathroom if you’re
being abused because it’s a very enclosed area and the “most
dangerous room you can be in,” said Ms. Annoni. Another
dangerous area is the kitchen because the abuser can grab a
knife, glass or many other objects.
Annoni also encourages
Spanish-speaking women to learn enough English so that they can
call 9-1-1 and give their name and address to the dispatcher.
Ms. Annoni is hopeful that
Mrs. Torres-García’s efforts will fill the void left when
El Centro de la Mujer went on hiatus. Ms. Annoni is now employed
by an agency that helps the homeless and mentally ill, but she’s
optimistic that El Centro will be revived.
Since being hired in
June, Mrs. Torres-García has spent much of her time introducing
herself to the community be making presentations to various
organizations and agencies. The strategy has been effective; for
example Toledo’s Adelante, Inc. contacted Mrs. Torres-García
about the 15-year-old who was assaulted this past week.
In January, the H.O.P.E.
Center will begin providing Spanish-language education
classes and programs for women who have been sexually assaulted.
Mrs. Torres-García will begin by offering programs in East
Toledo and the Old South End of the city. For more information
about those meetings contact Mrs. Torres-Garcia at (419)
241-3235 extension 194. H.O.P.E. also offers a 24-hour help line
In addition to offering
weekly support meetings, class topics will cover understanding
rights, how to talk to children about circumstances,
understanding what sexual assault and domestic violence is, and
what resources are available. The programs and services are
Part of her job is to
answer any questions and tackle myths; for example some women
believe that sexual assault is a punishment by God, Mrs. Torres-García
“We’re offering the
program in Spanish because there are already programs in
English,” said Mrs. Torres-Garcia. “But what about those women
who don’t speak English; there’s nothing out there for them.
These programs are needed to help them.”
Other agencies that
specialize in helping Spanish-speaking victims of domestic
violence and sexual assault include:
Domestic Violence and Children Advocacy Center, Cleveland, Ohio,
which offers a 24-hour hotline – 216-391-HELP and long-term
Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, Grand Rapids, Michigan,
Center for Women in Transition, Holland, Michigan,