Video: A domestic violence program struggles to keep doors open despite rising reports of abuse

Facilitator of the 'Ya Basta!' program at the Latina Center shares what the program means to her and the Latina community in Richmond, and what would happen if the program is gone completely due to a lack of funds. Produced by Angeline Bernabe.

On a Wednesday in November, a group of four women convened for a workshop in the Latina Center nestled behind the Barrett Avenue Christian Church in Richmond. The weekly workshop is a session of ‘Ya Basta! Juntos Terminemos la Violencia Familiar’—or as many in the community know it, ‘Enough! Together We Can End Family Violence.’

Ya Basta! facilitator Alicia Rodriguez greeted the women entering the room with a warm embrace, gestured for them to take a seat, and asked how each of them was doing since they last met.

Some lightly mentioned weekend plans; others brought up custody battles, restraining orders and upcoming court dates.

Across Richmond and in Contra Costa County, organizations like the Latina Center offer a safe haven for women who experience signs of domestic violence and have nowhere to turn. In the past year alone, domestic violence centers and organizations say they have seen an increase in the number of victims that they assist. The rise has posed problems for some organizations,  because of a lack of resources needed to provide victims with the help and services they need.

In 2016, more than 50 domestic violence calls were made each month to the Richmond Police Department, a significant increase over the 20 to 30 calls made per month in 2012, said Sergeant Matt Stonebraker, head of the Richmond Police Department’s domestic violence unit.

But the number of calls to the Richmond Police Department does not reflect the full scope of domestic violence in the city.

According to a 2010 report by the United States Department of Justice, only 25 percent of physical assaults perpetrated against women are reported to the police every year.

Some of these women turn to organizations beyond the police department.

Gloria Sandoval, CEO of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, a nonprofit organization that helps victims of domestic violence in Contra Costa County, said that the organization is contacted by more than 15,000 clients every year.

Narika, an El Cerrito organization dedicated to helping South Asian women who are victims of domestic violence, helped 215 clients in the past year alone.

And over the past five years, the Latina Center has assisted 500 victims of domestic violence.

When a police officer responds to a domestic violence related call, he or she asks the victim a series of 11 questions to help determine the level of risk they face.

The questions come from something called the Lethality Assessment Program, or LAP. Following LAP protocol, officers asks victims if they have been threatened with a weapon, if their partner has threatened to kill their children, and if they think that their abuser will try to kill them.

Sandoval said that most people identified through LAP have never sought assistance before—even though by the time they call the police, their lives are at serious danger.

“It’s really surprising to us given that these people who are in the highest danger haven’t reached out for support,” she said.

The assistance available from organizations such as STAND!, the Latina Center and Narika ranges from pro bono legal help to support groups and empowerment programs.

Although there are many organizations in Richmond working to help domestic violence victims, all face serious obstacles, from cultural and language barriers to visa issues.

Most of the women who seek help from Narika, for example, are immigrants who arrived in the United States through arranged marriage, and are therefore in the country on special visas.

According to Suman Gill, a human resources representative at the center, women on H-4 visas are unable to work in the United States, which makes them highly dependent on their abuser.

“In some cases, the spouse almost ends up becoming like a prisoner in the house and a servant where they’re cooking for the husband and the family, and their finances are controlled,” she said.

At the Latina Center, which focuses on assisting Latina women, Ya Basta! program coordinator Gloria Alvarez said that domestic violence can be difficult to overcome because it can have deep cultural roots.

According to the Women of Color Network, which advocates to prevent violence against women of color, 23.4 percent of Latina women experience intimate partner violence, which includes rape, stalking or physical assault.

In the Latino/a community, “a woman is there to obey,” Alvarez said. “That’s how it is. And that’s the culture we are trying to change.”

Sandoval at STAND! said that an intergenerational cycle of violence has also become a growing challenge in recent years.

The intergenerational cycle of violence, she said, occurs when children grow up in homes where there is domestic violence between parents and as a result they later adopt those same behaviors, becoming offenders or victims themselves.

“It’s not something we’re born innately with and people generally learn violent responses in their homes of origin,” Sandoval said.

Moreover, because of this cycle, she said, the face of the domestic violence victim is becoming younger and younger.

For the past decade, STAND! has offered domestic violence workshops, support groups and trainings exclusively for youth. The organization also does outreach in middle schools and high schools across the county.

Part of this outreach focuses on making teens aware of how social media and dating apps can lead to teen dating violence, said Ruby Solis, a prevention program manager at STAND!.

The organization’s own statistics show that one in three of all youth will experience some form of dating violence in their lives. At STAND!’s school workshops, students sometimes disclose how they were pressured into sexual acts or submission to their partner on social media, said Solis.

“We find that a lot of youth meet each other through social media and through dating apps when they go to the same school,” Solis said. “And sometimes they don’t go to the same school, but we still see that these forms of abuse happen.”

Age, cultural barriers and a lack of information can all prevent victims from seeking help. Sometimes, women who come to the Latina Center don’t realize they are in an abusive relationship until they hear what the signs are, said Rodriguez.

In September, a federal grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, which had previously supported the Ya Basta! program, was not renewed. Currently, STAND! is the only comprehensive domestic violence shelter in Contra Costa County.

Despite this, they lack the resources to serve all of those in need of assistance.

“We only have 24 shelter beds in the county,” said Sandoval. “Which for a million people is not a lot.”

In Richmond schools, STAND! coordinators typically receive close to 70 requests from students to attend support group sessions, but the groups can only accommodate 15 students at a time.

“We’re so badly needed in Richmond,” said Solis, “but we have a capacity” problem.

Organization representatives, however, said that victims will never be turned away for lack of resources. STAND! operates a 24-hour crisis hotline and coordinates with other domestic violence agencies in the area.

And though the Latina Center has struggled to raise the funds it needs for the Ya Basta! program, Rodriguez said the organization will keep its doors open to women no matter what happens.

“People who need support are always welcome here,” said Rodriguez. “We would never close our doors to women in need.”

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