A caption accompanying a photograph in last week's District Weekly incorrectly identified one of the members of a panel discussing domestic violence in the Hispanic community. The panelist was John Dillingham of the Washington School of Psychiatry, not Julio Guerra of Amdromeda.
Traditional social services for battered women may not be effective when the victims are Hispanic women, whose unfamiliarity with English makes it difficult for them to communicate with those attempting to help them, said participants in a conference on domestic violence last week.
"The legal system is fairly useless for the questions many women ask about domestic violence," said Sharon Armuelles, executive director of Ayuda, a provider of legal services for low-income Hispanos.
She listed some examples:
"'He says he'll kidnap my children if I try to leave and we were never legally married. Can he do that?'
"'He's molesting my daughter and I brought him here as a permanent resident. What's the number of the Immigration (and Naturalization) Service?'"
Seeking answers to tough problems like these, about 50 social worker, therapists, police, legal advisers and other "service providers" gathered at the Mount Pleasant Public Library, 16th and Lamont streets NW, last Thursday for a conference on domestic violence in Washington's Hispanic community.
The conference -- sponsored by Andromeda, the 10-year-old Hispanic mental health center, the Rosement Day Center and Family and Child Services -- featured a panel discussion followed by two workshops. The purpose of the conference, said organizers, was to familiarize participants with the services each provides and to sensitize social service workers to the special needs of the Hispanic community.
"Often, black and white (police) officers may not fully understand the male's extreme preoccupation with the macho character or the extreme submissiveness of the woman," said Sara Kittrie, an alcoholism counselor from Andromeda who led a workshop on how attitudes in the Hispanic family related to domestic violence.
"When a police officer comes, husbands who may speak better English may pass off what is actually a serious situation as a minor incident. . . . Or the man may be the only family the (Hispanic woman) has in this country," she said.
Traditional solutions to domestic violence may require a woman to press charges against her husband, and "she may believe that means going against family, and to go against family is wrong," said Kittrie. She also poinmted out that domestic violence may be perpetuated by fears of deportation for women whose legal status may be in doubt, by the lack of other relatives nearby, and by traditional views of women as the property of the husband. Families coming from "hot spots" such as El Salvador may translate the tension of that situation into domestic violence, she said.
Sometimes, added Andromeda counselor Julio Guerra, men and women do not even know that spouse abuse is illegal.
Members of the panel included: Palmira Hay, a social worker at Rosemont Day Care; Lori Weinstein of My Sister's Place, a shelter for battered women; Lydia Vargas Egan, a founder of My Sister's Place and Men to End Spouse Abuse (M.E.S.A.); Sharon Armuelles; Officer Sonia Berdeguez of the Third District Community Services Division; Maria Elena Orrego, a counselor for Andromeda; and Esteban Hays, a social worker at Family and Child Services.
The participants ended the conference by drafting a list of proposals for improving services to battering men. They emphasized that such traditional counseling tools as one-to-one interaction and office visits may not best suit the needs of the Hispanic community. They suggested that home visits and family counseling may often be better solutions.
Conference participants also suggested developing a series of "safe homes" where women can take refuge from an abusive spouse, forming a community education network that would continue to develop better resources for the community, and founding a self-help support group for abused Hispanic women.
"We started talking in October about resources and we found there were none. This is the result," said Palmira Hay. "It's a first step."