UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence
Culturally Sensitive Response
|Ginna Isunza (l-r), Christian Hernández and Veronica Lazo provide the
many services that UNIDOS provides.
to really look at the whole complexity of their lives and understand that this victim might be a mother, might be a sister, might be a wife, might
be unemployed or might be undocumented. How do we take all of those things into account in order to support someone to get out of violence
in a safe way? Or sometimes, relationships with men won’t end in leaving their perpetrators. Sometimes things get fixed and people go to
counseling and they do well. The lives of the families that we serve are complicated. Many people in our community will not use the police as
a first resource because of the undocumented piece of things. Maybe this person, if they are a male, is the only one providing financial support
to the family. And calling the police will result in getting deported most of the time. People don’t really use the police as much as we want them
to in very, very serious situations. And it has a lot to do with immigration purposes and what happens when you enter jail.”
Lazo also emphasized that men can also be victims of violence, domestic and otherwise.
“I’m a firm believer that if we don’t get everyone in this equation, we’re never going to eliminate this issue,” Lazo said. “And men are a key in
order for us to end violence. However, we also recognize that men can be victims too. Many people don’t realize and don’t take into
consideration that people who immigrate here are exposed to serious, serious violence. We have women who have been raped. We have
women who have been trafficked. And we have also men who have been raped crossing the border. How can we support these men who are
victims too and don’t have the support system as women have in this community?”
What is important to Lazo is thatthe agency reflects the norms and values of the Latino community and that it provides culturally-relevant
services that respond to the needs of the people who use it.
“I would say that everything that we do here at UNIDOS does not come from the staff,” Lazo emphasized. “Everything that we put together here
comes from our clients and listening to them. So UNIDOS surveys people in our support groups and talk to those people whom we provide
services to. ‘What do you think that UNIDOS needs to do for improvement or for programming that you want to see?’ We don’t go by what
mainstream organizations do because our communities are different. And we really listen to the people whom we serve. We don’t sit here
bored and say, ‘We’re bored. Let’s just come up with a group.’ That’s not going to happen. Everything we do here is driven by our clients.”
In response to the needs of the community, about a year ago, UNIDOS announced the establishment of Proyecto Dignidad to bring the men into
the equation, recognizing they may be victims of assault and that their participation is crucial in establishing anti-violence norms within the
Latino community. It began with a series of listening sessions held in different locations in Dane County and culminated in a men’s conference
“We talked about different things including the men’s position,” Lazo said. “How can we be more supportive in the community? What are the
things that men need in our community and why don’t men seek services? Very soon, we found out that the main reason why men didn’t seek
services was because of language. They didn’t feel comfortable with having interpreters sometimes or they went to receive services and they
didn’t have interpreters to help them get understood. The other reason was that they didn’t feel that the same services that were allocated to
women were for men. And that is why they didn’t go to some agencies or agencies like ours in the past because they felt that all of the
services were targeted to women only. A few of them mentioned the fact that they were ashamed of what happened or were afraid of getting
the police involved because they weren’t going to believe them based on the fact they were men.”
And Lazo began to implement some changes based on the listening sessions to become more relevant to the needs of the men.
“We had to change up the image of the agency,” Lazo said. “That’s why we started with Proyecto Dignidad. That’s why we started first with the
listening sessions. We did a series of radio programs with PSAs also. We had things going on in Facebook. Now we also have a page for
Proyecto Dignidad. Men can go there and get information. We do postings related to men’s issues. We did have to make a shift for men to really
trust that we are not only here for women.”
And the shift paid off.
“We are actually getting a number of men coming to our door asking for help, a number of men wanting to change their behavior and we can
send them to treatment programs or the mental health center because we do not provide treatment programs,” Lazo said. “And when Proyecto
Dignidad first started, we had seven men who represented professions from the medical field to counseling to the jails and child protective
services. They were coming to these meetings to see how they could, as service providers, outreach to men that we are serving. Now we are
adding the men who are coming here for services to the group as well.”
UNIDOS is allowing families and the Latino community to become whole and healthy in the way that a culturally responsive agency should.
By Jonathan Gramling
When UNIDOS was founded in 1996, it was established as a traditional
domestic violence agency that through language and services
targeted the Latina community. It received a federal grant that allowed
it to provide services to Latinas all across Wisconsin, especially
in rural areas. When the federal funding dried up, UNIDOS came close
to going out of business, but managed to keep the services going
through primarily local and state funding. While it still provides
statewide — and even national in some cases — referral services
primarily through its 800 number, it has also had to expand its focus in
order to engage the Latino community in the fight against violence.
Veronica Lazo took over as executive director in 2014 and almost
immediately began to listen to the concerns and the needs of the
Latino community, both documented and undocumented. And so
UNIDOS, through her leadership, changed the method by which they
would fight violence, domestic and otherwise, in the community.
“We can not only look at victims as just victims,” Lazo said. “We need