Chattanooga-based hispanic women's group speaks out against domestic violence

Chattanooga-based hispanic women's group speaks out against domestic violence

March 26th, 2012 by Perla Trevizo in News

Melody Bonilla, client services director at La Paz, speaks with women in the boardroom of the La Paz house in Chattanooga Thursday. The women were holding a training session and discussing ways in which they can reach out to Latina women that been victims of domestic violence.

Melody Bonilla, client services director at La Paz,...

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.


• The act became law in 1994 with bipartisan support and has been reauthorized twice since then, but this time it faces some opposition.

• Some lawmakers are concerned with provisions that would broaden American Indian tribal rights and protections for gay and illegal immigrant victims of violence, The Associated Press reported.

• More than $4 billion has been awarded for victim services and programs such as transitional housing, supervised visitation and legal assistance, according to the Office on Violence Against Women.

A couple of years ago, La Paz Chattanooga started a women's group called "Entre Nosotras" - "Among Ourselves" - intended to give local Hispanic women a place where they could talk about anything on their minds.

What they found, though, was that many of them wanted to talk about being abused.

"We used Entre Nosotras as a focus group to find out what women in the community needed, but after about a year, they all of the sudden opened up and almost all of them said that, at one point, they had been victims of domestic violence," said Melody Bonilla, who works in client care services for La Paz.

Last year, the group received a $200,000 grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, among 24 organizations nationwide and the only one in Tennessee to receive the money, which was to be used for cultural and linguistic-specific services for domestic violence victims.

Domestic violence is universal and crosses ethnic and economic boundaries - one in four women in the U.S. and one in seven men have been victims of domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

But it's not a one-size-fits-all situation, experts said.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the country and in the region, according to U.S. census figures.

Though they are a diverse group and their level of adaptation to U.S. culture varies, there are certain cultural norms and values that can be used when working with Hispanic families that have experienced violence, such as the respect for the elderly and grandparents.

"I've never been in a position where a man disrespected me," said Julia Perilla, with the National Latino Network for Healthy Families and Communities, a branch of Casa de Esperanza, an organization based in St. Paul, Minn.

Last week, La Paz received a two-day workshop from the National Latino Network for Healthy Families and Communities as part of the grant, and Perilla was one of the trainers.

"They see me as an 'abuela' (a grandmother)," she said during a training session on how to engage men.

Perilla also helped found Caminar Latino in 1990, the first support group for Spanish-speaking battered women in Georgia.

Juan Carlos Areán, with Casa de Esperanza, said the network was created a couple of years ago because there was a need for better communication.

"We saw a need for organizations to basically share and learn from each other in a culturally specific and appropriate way," said Areán, who also came to Chattanooga. "Just asking women to leave [the situation] hasn't been working very well. A lot of Latino women don't necessarily want to leave," part of which can be related to cultural values.

"All of us, regardless if we are Latinos or not, need to be culturally aware," said Perilla. "When any of us are in a situation where there's trauma or a crisis, we respond much better to things that are already familiar to us."

The training included how to work with survivors and form partnerships with other entities, such as the one La Paz is forming with the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.

But for La Paz, more than dealing strictly with issues of domestic violence, the key is working with the entire family.

"It's about healthy families, and domestic violence is just one piece of the pie," said Stacy Johnson, director of La Paz. "Domestic violence is one of the issues some of the women may be having, but that's not all. It's also about health, about nutrition, about parenting."

For instance, the meeting group Entre Nosotras strives to empower the women in the group.

They do yoga classes, pampering sessions where they learn how to exfoliate their hands using products they have at home, and listen to lessons about parenting.

Under a program called "Viva Chattanooga," entire families go to the zoo or the Creative Discovery Museum, and the organization hopes soon to have more activities to engage men, such as a soccer league.