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Women Afraid to Report Domestic Abuse – Rose Brooks Featured in Hispanic News

According to mental health experts, the Christmas season is the most crucial time of year for domestic violence and domestic abuse reporting. Financial stress coupled with unmet expectations, isolation and substance abuse contribute to the rise in reporting.

The numbers are already grim to begin with. More than 2.5 million females experience some form of violence each year, and in twothirds of these cases, the attacker is a family member or an acquaintance – a spouse, male friend, or male relative. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a woman is beaten every 7.4 seconds in the U.S. by a male partner, and 2,000 women are murdered by abusive partners or ex-partners annually.

In some communities, the problem is exacerbated by cultural and language differences that make it difficult to do the necessary outreach. Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City Missouri provides culturally competent services including shelter and counseling to hundreds of women who have encountered some form of domestic abuse.

Carrie Daniels, director of Community Programs, points out that domestic violence takes many forms. “We define domestic violence as a pattern of coercive or abusive behavior that one partner uses against a current or former partner. … Usually they start out as subtle actions. Rarely do they start out as physical tactics. Mostly the cycle of power and control continues by use of financial controls, threats, intimidation, manipulation, and emotional abuse such as put-downs and criticisms, and of course, sexual assault, which ranges from rape to coercing someone to engage in sexual activities they don’t want to engage in.”

Elaine Cruz, Bilingual Outreach Case Manager, noted that the primary mission of the Rose Brooks Center is to assist women who find themselves in abusive relationships. “We want women to know there is somewhere they can go for help. Rose Brooks provides protection for abused women, and we assist them in everything from finding a place to stay to finding a job. We also want women to know that our services are free.”

Daniels said that one of the biggest problems facing Rose Brooks is getting information to women in the community about what constitutes domestic violence, and what a woman’s rights are. “Information is power, and the more information they have about what their options are, the more in control they are. What we’ve been focusing on in the last couple of years is providing equal access – particularly to immigrant women and children, because immigration status is often the greatest barrier to receiving services and getting to safety.”

Kate Cavanaugh, Bilingual Outreach Therapist, said that domestic violence is underreported, but even more so in immigrant communities, where language barriers and lack of knowledge about the legal system lead to fear and inaction.

“Sometimes the batterer will use the tactic of lying to the woman about American laws, and saying things like, ‘If you ever go to the police you’ll just get deported,’” Cavanaugh said. “Or they’ll say, ‘If you ever go to a shelter they’ll take your kids away and you’ll never see them again.’ So when immigrant women operate with those myths as truth in their minds, it’s just another barrier to reporting the abuse or seeking services.”

Center staff has noted cultural differences often exist making it difficult for these women to report domestic abuse. “For Latinas, we have this thing that once we get married, we’re married for life,” Cruz said. “So if domestic abuse occurs, family members may tell the woman, ‘Well, he’s your husband. You should just work it out.’ So sometimes the woman has no support.”

Cavanaugh noted, “A lot of Latino women say to me that sexual abuse doesn’t count, ‘because he’s my husband.’ In this country, it doesn’t matter whether the man is your husband or a stranger. Rape is rape. This view does not prevail in some countries.”

Fear of deportation is a major deterrent to the reporting of domestic violence by undocumented immigrant women, according to Cavanaugh. “What is supposed to happen when a women reports domestic violence against herself or her children is for the police to separate the batterer from the victim, and take separate statements. The woman should be referred to a shelter and should receive assistance in filling out the police report. ... The woman is not suppose to be asked about her immigration status or reported to immigration. In only the rarest situation would that happen. … But we can’t guarantee that it will never happen.”

Cavanaugh pointed out that special visas are available under the federal Violence Against Women Act when women have been subjected to domestic violence or are a victim of the sex trade. “Women and children who experience domestic violence have certain protections under the Act if their batterer or abuser is a U.S. citizen or legal resident here,” Cavanaugh said. “We work closely with immigration attorneys to be able to help petition for residency if they have been experiencing domestic violence.”

Cruz pointed out that going to the police is not the only way for women to report domestic abuse or to get help. “They can get connected to shelter and other services by calling Rose Brooks, by going to the hospital and reporting it to a nurse or doctor, by going to a nearby clinic, or reporting it to a school counselor.”

To facilitate reporting of domestic violence, the Center has placed advocates in six main hospitals in Kansas City and in 45 greater Kansas City schools. “We have a school program called “Project Safety” where we provide prevention from the time the child enters school till they leave,” Daniels said. “We also have advocates in the Police Department’s domestic violence unit, and we have advocates in the courts. So if a woman has to go to court, we can have someone with her.”

In addition to providing temporary shelter, Rose Brooks provides training and counseling services for women ant their children. “We have a full-time educator and a full time Chaplin,” Daniels said. “The Chaplin provides spiritual guidance, and is trying to educate the clergy, because we know that many women will go to their church first. We provide individual therapy in both English and Spanish for victims and their families. We have a child therapist, an adult therapist,and a bilingual therapist. Wehave many support groups forwomen throughout the healing process, and case management is in Spanish and English.”.

All Rose Brooks services are confidential. The Centerprovides statistical informationto its funding agencies but notthe names of women it serves.

“A woman’s residency status does not matter to us, and we try to eliminate the fears that immigrant women have about seeking our services,” Daniels said. “We believe in advocacy beyond leaving the shelter, and in self-determination by the women. If a woman wants domestic violence reported we will assist her in doing that. If she does not want it reported when it’s against her we won’t report it.”

Daniels explained that advocacy agencies such as Rose Brooks are required by law to report child abuse and elder abuse to the Department of Health and Human Services. They are not required to report spousal abuse. Rose Brooks operates a 24- hour crisis intervention hot line. Women can call (816) 861-6100. Bilingual counselors are immediately available. The center also provides translation services in over 135 languages. The center connects those in need with shelter, counseling and continuing supportive resources.