By Mariel Garza
Thursday, May 10, 2001
Latinas told advocates they wanted an end to family violence, but not their relationships with their spouses or companions. Now, several agencies have culturally specific programs for Latinos, while committing themselves to the safety of Latinas.
PASADENA, Calif. (WOMENSENEWS)--In the early 1990s, Julia Perilla started listening to abused Latina women and what they told her: Consider the men.
A former battered wife herself, Perilla was working with a community-based project for Latino families torn apart by domestic violence. Traditionally, the response to domestic violence in the United States is to rescue the women from their partners, help them establish lives of their own and then refer the cases to the criminal justice system.
But for many Latinas, this approach just doesn't work. And that's what they told Perilla, a clinical community psychologist and an assistant research professor at Georgia State University. The reality is that many women want to remain with their husbands, they don't want to leave. What they want is an end to the violence and that won't happen unless the men too can get help.
Though reluctant at first to change her own approach, Perilla said she began to see that these women were right, and she set about finding a way to help the men as well as the women. This eye-opening experience was the beginning of a new approach to stopping domestic violence in Latino families.
Focusing on the men who batter rather than just on helping women is a revolutionary concept in the advocacy community and has been met with some resistance because it's not the traditional approach: Remove the women and punish the men.
"The community being the one that sets the agenda is a new idea," Perilla said. "That has not usually been the case." But in this instance, it is the right approach, she told a conference on domestic violence, focusing on the batterer in the Latino community.
The conference, entitled "Latinos Who Batter," was organized by the Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, or Alianza, a group of Latino advocates, community activists, practitioners, researchers and survivors of domestic violence, working together to find solutions that will end abuse in Latino communities. More than 200 people attended, connected and shared ideas and programs that have worked.
"The forum illustrates the importance of women and men working together to end family violence," said Adelita Medina, executive director of the Alianza. "Why should women carry that responsibility on their own? Domestic violence is a societal problem. Non-violent men can and should be positive role models for kids and for other men."
One such program is El Hombre Noble, the Noble Man, a curriculum used by the National Compadres Network in California designed to help men learn accountability for their violence and how to be a positive force in the lives of their families.
Woven into the lessons of El Hombre Noble are stories--stories from the ancient times before the Spanish conquistadors razed the Aztec empire, stories of the battles and violence in the years since and the current stories of healing. All of these tales give the men a larger and deeper perspective of their violence in relation to their history. Ceremony and imagery are also used: The men gather in a circle and use prayer to help them become noble men.
"You look backward so you can move forward," said Jerry Tello, director of the Los Angeles-based National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute and co-creator of the program. "It's all directed at the next generation, 'los ninos,' so that the next generation is better."
Fernando Mederos, co-creator of the Evolve program, developed for abusive men of color in Connecticut, challenged some of the beliefs about why men abuse women, such as: That's the way men are or it's biology. He also expressed concern about some religious beliefs that espouse male superiority.
It's none of those things, Mederos said. "It's about oppression. ... It's the nature of power and control."
Nearly one-third of all adult women in the United States are assaulted by their partners, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. While there is no evidence that the incidence of domestic violence is any greater in Latino families than in any other families, it does occur in a different context.
Immigration status, especially illegal immigration, may make a woman afraid to report her battering partner lest he--and sometimes she--be deported.
Diversity issues also are important--not just the differences among Latin American cultures, but also the diversity of particular experience, such as how recently a family immigrated to the United States. A first-generation family is going to have different issues than a third-generation family, as would a family from the mountains of Guatemala compared to one from the high-rises of Mexico City, Perilla said.
"Another thing that is crucial to working with the Latino men is that many also come with a history of trauma--profound post-traumatic stress--because they've come from war-torn situations, civil war situations and horrible types of violent experiences," said Ricardo Carrillo, a licensed clinical psychologist, as well as a co-creator of the El Hombre Noble model.
"To deal with the domestic violence exclusively and not attend to those issues really limits the utility and is not fair to the needs of those people," said Carrillo, the director of the training and technical assistance division for the Alianza.
Instead of breaking up the families, the idea is to heal and retrain the men, Carrillo said. But the training must be culturally relevant. "You have to be able to speak the language, and you have to be able to understand their attitudes and beliefs," he said. "You have to know something about migration. We have many men who have migrated from Mexico, Central America and South America."
For the most part, the models for batterer intervention programs focused on getting abusive men to take responsibility for their violence and restore a balance in their families with respectful and functional relationships.
The models included Colectivo de Hombres por Relaciones Igualitarias (Men's Collective for Equal Relationships), which has been used for seven years in Mexico City and encourages men to renounce their violence. Another program is Caminar Latino (Latino Journey), a culturally specific intervention program for batterers developed in 1995 in Atlanta in response to the needs of abused Latinas.
"Latino Journey reflects our vision of 'walking with' people and families on our common road to nonviolence,'" Perilla said later. "The name also implies our belief that we are not the experts, but rather fellow journeyers with the people with whom we work."
Domestic violence is a problem for homosexual couples as well, and the National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization presented its model, Amores que Matan, or Love That Kills.
All of the models focus on the batterer while keeping women safe, and all take different approaches. One of the goals of the Alianza's new research center in Atlanta is to evaluate different programs to find what works best in different situations.
"We're going about it in different ways," said Georgia State University research professor Perilla, "but I think we're all on the same page with the idea that we don't want the domestic violence to continue into the next generation."
Mariel Garza is a free-lance writer based in Los Angeles. Her workhas appeared in The Los Angeles Times, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Reasonand Latingirl.
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