UNIDOS works to stop domestic violence
Stop the Violence!
By Jonathan Gramling

   Domestic violence can happen anywhere to anyone. It doesn’t matter what class,
color, religion, nationality or race, it happens. And domestic violence is about power
and forcing one’s will over another through physical and/or emotional force, often
times destroying the will and self-esteem of the victim, if it doesn’t outright kill her.
   While domestic violence is universal, it takes on particular characteristics that are
influenced by culture and legal status. Spanish speaking women, particularly
immigrant women, face circumstances that are shaped by their cultural background
and legal status that lead to a sense of isolation and helplessness and an array of
services that may not always be culturally sensitive to their needs.
   “Every culture is different,” said Monica, an outreach advocate with UNIDOS, a
bridge between Spanish speaking and immigrant women and domestic violence
services. “For example, American women deal with domestic violence in a different
way than Latin women do. Why? Because our culture teaches us that we have to go
back with the husband, no matter what. We go back so many times with the abuser
because we have heard from the beginning ‘You have to be a good cook because you
have to cook well for your husband. You have to learn to clean the house because
your husband has to be impressed with what you do inside of the house.’ Also they told us that you had to be with your husband, no matter what
he does to you because he is your husband, the father of your children. Latin women stay longer with their abusers.”
      Monica, who was also a victim of domestic violence, recalled providing services to a Filipina. “I was a volunteer, but I had the opportunity to
deal with her for a long time,” Monica said. “I remember that her situation was similar to the Latin culture. She would go back and forth with her
abuser no matter what the advocate said to her. She always wanted to go back because it was what she learned in her country. She had to be
with her husband. And if her husband had a bad day, even if she had black eyes, she wanted to go back.”
      According to Sheila Przesmicki, UNIDOS’ interim director, it is the perceived needs of the family that the women place above their own well-
being that contributes to a prolonged cycle of domestic abuse. “One of the differences that we have seen in the Latino community is many times
the women want to get away just for the afternoon or just talk to somebody,” Sheila said. “They may want to get away for a night. But they don’t
want to stay in a shelter. It could be for a number of different reasons. Sometimes it is because of the comfort level. But I don’t know how many
people do feel comfortable in a shelter no matter what the color of their skin is.
      But some of it has to do with language barriers and some of it has to do with they feel, as Monica mentioned, there is the obligation they feel
to return to the family and the guilt factor. And they go back much more quickly I think.”
      And while the women are able to access the shelter, they may not feel comfortable due to cultural factors. “I received a call about a month
ago from the people from the shelter,” Monica said. “They wanted to change the way they bring services to the Latin women. One example is the
food. When the women go into the shelter, they find food that is in cans and Latin people don’t eat canned food. They called me because they need
menus to make the shelter a little more welcoming to the Latino women. The victims don’t want to go to the shelter because they feel so isolated.
They feel that Spanish speakers don’t speak English. They are different. Also, they have a different schedule to go to sleep. They feel like they   
don’t fit in the shelters. But I know the shelters do the best that they can for these women and their children.”
      What compounds the problems for many Latinas and immigrant women is their legal status. Unless they are U.S. citizens, at least initially,
their status makes them vulnerable in the relationship. “Undocumentation is another dimension,” Sheila said. “I would say there are at least 5-6
dimensions that are involved and are beyond what the average victim of domestic violence who is not an immigrant has to deal with. Being
undocumented brings to light many issues an abuser can use against the victim. ‘You’re undocumented. I’m going to report you to immigration
services. I’m going to report you to your employer so that you can’t get a job. I’m going to tell the neighbors so that they neighbors call. There are
all sorts of threats that the abuser can use and unfortunately, it has become more popular now because of the various different immigration This is
more than trafficking. In some cases, they marry them because they did come here on a fiancé visa. They have a limited time to get married. They
marry them and then have them like a slave inside their houses. This happens here in Madison.”
      After UNIDOS was established in 2004, partially through a grant from the then Wis. Dept. of Health and Family Services, it quickly grew into a
statewide agency with 12 staff that was providing training and services across the state. But then it lost the bulk of its funding last year and is
now down to two staff people. It has gone through a period of self-assessment and has slightly changed its mission to reflect its diminished
      “I think it is important that people realize that the mission of UNIDOS is to provide a bridge to services and to a safe environment through safe
assessment, through education of service providers as well as victims and potential victims,” Sheila said. “We’re also trying to work in the area
of prevention. But the important thing is we want to provide resources and connections to those resources and a bridge to those resources so
eventually people can go on their own and whether it is the service providers or the victims themselves, somehow they can find a way to
connect with each other and continue those services directly.”
      As an outreach advocate, Monica staffs a weekly support group. In addition to providing emotional support, UNIDOS also helps the women
learn skills that will eventually help them to become self-sufficient. And it is making a difference. “The women who come here to America are
changing their minds now. When they are living in their own country, they are scared,” Monica said. “But when they come here and find an
advocate like at UNIDOS that explains they have rights and no one can beat them or treat them bad. After they come in 4-5 times, they start to be
stronger. Their self-esteem comes back. They feel that if these women here have been doing this for three years and are living alone and are
paying for their own apartment, food and car, they have proven what I can do. This is why UNIDOS has Mujere Adelante because a woman
forward is women helping women. The women who have been here longer are a living example for the new women who come in.”
      UNIDOS is helping women escape their isolation and pursue a path to self respect and dignity.
      UNIDOS is having its annual meeting on October 16, 5-7 p.m., at Bethel Lutheran Church in the lower level.
Monica (l) is an outreach advocate and Sheila Przesmicki is
interim director of UNIDOS. The poster in the background
says in translation “He hit her 150 times. She only received
flowers once. The photo is of a coffin with flowers draped
over it.