‘They don’t have another way’

Support group for Latina survivors of abuse established in Siler City

Posted 1/17/20

SILER CITY — When the Family Violence Rape Crisis Center closed in October 2018, Chatham County was without an organization or group specifically focused on serving survivors of domestic violence. …

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‘They don’t have another way’

Support group for Latina survivors of abuse established in Siler City

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Posted

SILER CITY — When the Family Violence Rape Crisis Center closed in October 2018, Chatham County was without an organization or group specifically focused on serving survivors of domestic violence.

In the 15 months since, Second Bloom of Chatham has been birthed and a 24-7 crisis line has been established, with the people over at Chatham County Court Programs stepping in to provide assistance. While Second Bloom is still establishing itself and trying to get programs up and running, there’s one initiative that is already in full swing.

Starting in March 2019, a pair of domestic violence advocates — one working for Chatham County and another for the Siler City Police Department — put together a group designed to help a specific population of survivors: Latina women, who often find themselves in a bind when they suffer abuse.

These advocates say they want to provide a space for survivors to healing and maybe, eventually, trust a system some of them fear.

A cultural issue

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced some type of intimate partner abuse, whether physical or sexual violence or stalking. In North Carolina, the numbers are higher — the NCADV says 43.9 percent of women in the state and 19.3 percent of men experience those things in their lifetimes.

Latinx women are no different. The 2017 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey stated that about 1 in 3 Latinas will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes and 1 in 12 have experienced it within the last year.

There are no specific numbers in Chatham County, but according to Tamsey Hill, program director of Second Bloom of Chatham, the need is obvious.

“It is such a need,” Hill said. “You sit in civil court on Wednesdays — it’s just so obvious the number of the civil cases going through in the Hispanic population, the need is so there.”

So while the Hispanic community’s experience with domestic violence isn’t much different than society in general, Gloria Maldonado and Edna Villasenor say the issues faced by Latina women in Siler City specifically can be unique to them.

“I think in the past, there were many victims that didn’t report because the husband is the one who is supporting the family,” said Maldonado, who works for the Siler City Police Department. “They don’t have another way to get any support, so they didn’t report it. Sometimes our culture is the same — whatever happens in your house stays in the house. So we don’t say anything and we just pass that to our kids and they see it like it’s normal.”

Then there’s a potential language barrier and concerns that, if a woman reports their abuse and they’re undocumented, deportation may be around the corner.

“That in itself covers a lot of things,” said Villasenor, who works with Chatham County. “They can’t get a passport or drive a car. So it definitely makes women and men more vulnerable.”

With these factors, Villasenor and Maldonado said, they feel domestic violence has gone underreported among the Latinx community in Siler City.

The town was home to a support group “a few years back,” Villasenor said, but it collapsed. So they decided to start again.

‘People just come and talk’

For more than 10 months now, Villasenor and Maldonado have met for eight weeks, with a small break in-between sessions, with groups averaging 10-12 people. With childcare and food provided, the pair lead group discussions and even go through some worksheets.

But most important for the leaders, they say, is simply giving the women the space to share when they’re ready.

“We start the class and we find different topics and we just let them get into the group,” Maldonado said. “Then a few weeks later, they will start talking about it. And I think that’s something that’s helping the victims, just to get whatever they have inside to other people so we can give the support they are needing.”

Maldonado didn’t start her career in domestic violence work, but in the medical field. After moving to Siler City from California a couple decades ago, she said, she began volunteering in the community through her church.

“In here, every time you help a family, every time you help a victim, you are happy to help those families and make a difference and completely change the way they were at the beginning,” she said. “When their case is over — just the case and not the classes — you will see a completely different person.”

Villasenor did volunteer work at FVRC and grew an interest in working with survivors of domestic violence.

“It’s so gratifying and it’s very rewarding to work with people and know that you’re making a difference,” she said. “It’s so needed in this community, especially here in Siler City.”

It may go without saying at this point, but Siler City is 42.5 percent Hispanic or Latino. And according to Villasenor, “the Hispanic population here is very under-served, so we thought it would be a very good project to start between us and the police department.”

Connection to the system

Unlike an operation coming out of a nonprofit, this support group is directly connected to both the county’s court system and a law enforcement agency. But it’s that connection that the group’s leaders feel is one of its best assets.

“I think it’s great that people see that because it makes people trust the system,” Villasenor said. “So I think that it’s great for people to know that we do collaborate, that both agencies are collaborating. You can come forward and talk to Gloria or talk to me without having that fear of someone gossiping or fear of being deported or being reported for some reason.”

Renita Foxx, director of Chatham County Court Programs, said the involvement of the Siler City PD in particular is crucial to helping survivors feel more comfortable not only in the group but in reporting their abuse.

“Gloria can be that bridge to help them understand, not just the distrust but some of our laws,” Foxx said. “Sometimes they may not understand that they have rights. Gloria being able to educate them on what their laws are, how to assert themselves, and making them aware of the resources available to them, (is important).”

Maldonado said the Siler City PD has worked to make survivors, particularly undocumented ones, more comfortable with reporting.

For Foxx, that’s the goal.

“Oftentimes, this is a population we have a hard time providing services for because of the culture right now or the tension or the distrust of certain agencies,” she said. “Gloria and Edna have grown the group. It’s really a nice way for them to build camaraderie and their own support and network inside the community.”

Part of the restart

Along with all the other benefits to domestic abuse survivors — mental and emotional support, more comfort with the system, the freedom to share their stories — Maldnado and Villasenor say they hope their group members find friendship.

“Usually, somewhere in the middle of talking about whatever topic we’re covering, they will start talking,” Villasenor said. “It’s very much they lead, they lead the group. Everything that we talk about here stays in here. It’s very much a good time of fellowship. I feel like they’ve opened up a lot.”

Foxx gushed not just about the work that Maldonado and Villasenor have done, but about the community’s involvement and investment. She said community members have stepped up to provide resources, like a location for the group to meet, and a local church has expressed interest in starting a males group.

It’s all part of the county’s efforts, alongside Second Bloom and law enforcement agencies, to replace the work that FVRC was doing. Foxx said a domestic violence task force has been put together to help the county move forward and provide services.

“We are nowhere near having it fixed, and hopefully we move back to the nonprofit world,” Foxx said. “But right now, we’re just coming together trying to figure out what’s the best way to serve.”

Hill said Second Bloom is still in the process of developing some programs and services and getting its feet under it, but they’re aware of the need among the Latinx community.

“We’re not blind to that,” she said. “We’re definitely aware and that will be a place for our growth in this year, making that connection.”

Maldonado said the current group is also an avenue for referrals to counseling services. Ultimately, she said, it’s about more than simply responding to a domestic violence incident.

“It’s very important to be healthy, physically and mentally, to continue with the family,” she said. “So that’s one of the things, giving them resources to get help.”

And the group also helps the service providers find out what else they may need to do, because the work is never done.

“We get a better idea of what services they need,” Villasenor said. “A lot of times they don’t even know what services are available to them in the community. So the support group creates a sense of community between them for them to open up about what’s going on and possibly report if they haven’t reported already.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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