CLEVELAND — Battered faces, broken souls. Domestic violence is the thief that kills the spirit of countless victims, affecting all communities, all the time. But it is processed differently in ethnic cultures.
“Abuse is not a normal part of a relationship,” said Melissa Graves, the new CEO of the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center.
She is working to tear down barriers for Latinas who might be too afraid to ask for help with “bi-lingual therapy, court based advocacy, help with immigration, childcare — all of the pieces in one place for that community.”
For many Latinas, the threat of deportation is used as a tool of fear and control.
“In the Latina community, if a person or anyone in their family is undocumented, that is something that an abuser can use to threaten to control,” Graves explained.
Sandy Deida is an incest and domestic violence survivor.
"My first molestation I was about 6,” Deida said.
Now she teaches Zumba to connect with her culture and keep her mind, body and spirit healthy, and shake off the history that shaped her.
“And I remember just the guilt that I felt, because I felt like I had provoked something within my uncles to cause them to touch me in that way,” Deida said. “And I didn't understand it."
Deida was taught what most communities of color believe: what happens in the house stays in the house.
"And we were told you don't talk about this to anyone,” she said. “This is our business, it's not their business and so you learn this as you go along and it becomes a big secret.”
According to the National Latino Network, 50% of Latinas never report their abuse. Why? Because if they make that call, they have to wonder.
“What's on the other end? Am I gonna get the help that I need? Am I going to get the support? Am I gonna be able to talk to someone?” Deida said.
Deida took control of her life and transformed her pain into power by becoming a registered domestic violence advocate in 2003.
"I was the only Latina advocate at the witness victim and also the domestic violence unit, and that was difficult,” she said. “Because you're one advocate, so you have to assist all the bi-lingual individuals that come in that might have that challenge.”
Being a voice for victims is only part of the battle getting them safely in the door is another.
"Victims did not have the transportation or ways to get to that location,” Deida said. “And so if they didn't how to take the bus or if they were afraid — if they were in a situation where they were leaving the relationship, they don't want to be walking down West 25th where they're going to be seen.”
Those are two challenges that Graves takes seriously by providing comprehensive bi-lingual services tailored specifically for the Latino community. Graves says the discomfort around the issue still exists, but, “there is a higher degree of interest in our community trying to understand and commitment to this issue."
It’s a commitment that Deida says will require more advocates of color who can relate to the cultures of the victims that need their help.