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How can I improve my program’s outreach efforts and services to Latin@ survivors and their families?

According to the US Census, Latin@s account for 16.3% of the total population. Because of the increasing growth of the Latin@ population, more and more domestic violence programs are becoming aware of the importance of improving their outreach efforts. Advocates are increasingly understanding that outreach to Latin@ communities goes beyond a translated brochure or Spanish poster. Successful Latin@ outreach programming must be culturally appropriate, incorporating services that are respectful of and responsive to cultural and linguistic needs (OMH, 2001). This type of approach honors and respects the diverse beliefs, experiences, languages and goals of those receiving services.



Outreach to a specific population must be well planned and should include input from members of that community regarding their specific needs. In some cases programs lack the necessary foundation to ensure that their well-intended efforts are successful. In order to develop a successful outreach to Latin@ communities dv programs should consider the following:

1. Learn About Latin@s in your Community

The nation’s Latin@ population is very diverse – not only by their countries of origin or race, but also by the languages they speak. According to the PEW Research Institute the nation’s 14 largest Hispanic/Latino-origin groups are:


Before designing a program, take a look at your community. The US Census can be a good tool to learn about the different Latin@ communities in your area. Although some communities include seasonal farm workers that move from state to state, the census can give you an idea of the groups and languages spoken in your area.

Questions to Consider:

  • What part of the general population is Latin@ (both number and percentage)?
  • Which Latin@ groups are significantly present (e.g., Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Central or South Americans?)
  • In which neighborhoods does Latin@s live? Are they concentrated in certain areas or counties?
  • To what extent are they literate in Spanish, dialects and English (consider verbal as well as written skills)?
  • What assistance are they now receiving and how have these programs reached them?
  • Do gaps in services exist and if so, why? (Ana Torres-Davis, 1994)
  • Latina Cultural Context and Advocacy by Casa de Esperanza reviews core components contributing to the cultural context of Latinas’ lives. Understanding how culture influences our decisions and views is an effective tool to designing culturally specific programming.

    2. Understand the Barriers Faced by Latin@ Survivors

    Historically, language access has been the number one barrier to services for Latin@ survivors. In 2013 the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities conducted a survey on survivors’ experiences accessing services titled Realidades Latinas: A National Survey on the Impact of Immigration and Language Access on Latina Survivors. The survey found:

  • There were no Spanish language services at the time when the police were called.
  • There were no Spanish-speaking advocates at the local shelter or there were a limited number of interpreters available at local organizations.
  • There were no Spanish-speaking services for helping with legal issues, including obtaining a protection order. Of particular importance, several respondents noted that although they speak English, they prefer to speak Spanish when discussing legal terms; however, they were not offered the services in their language.
  • The perpetrator was able to “manipulate” police because the partner spoke English and the survivor did not.
  • There were limited Spanish resources in print and on the internet.
  • Although language has been one of the most prominent challenges encountered by Latin@s when accessing services, there are many others. In 2011 Mujeres Latinas en Acción unveiled the comprehensive research study Latina Portrait: Domestic Violence and Latinas, which noted some of most common barriers and challenges faced by Latina survivors: cultural and religious beliefs, socioeconomic conditions, shelter accessibility, parental visitation rights, immigration status, the legal system, and lack of services for Latina lesbians.

    The Power and Control Wheel for Immigrants describes the many obstacles that prevent some Latin@as from seeking help.

    All of the barriers described here should be critical items for organizational discussion and action – consider how they may play out in your community and prioritize solutions as part of your coordinated community response.

    3. Involve “La Comunidad”

    Many communities of color have experienced poor treatment at the hands of service providers. As a result, communities may become suspicious and reluctant to welcome an organization that has not taken the time to consult with community leaders and gatekeepers. These essential strategies will help build trust and respect:

  • Conduct focus groups to better understand the community’s perspective on domestic violence.
  • Become part of the community fabric by participating in community and cultural activities and/or events.
  • Develop avenues for community residents and leaders to provide ongoing input about community needs and trends.
  • Establish advisory committees or working groups with structured, meaningful opportunities to provide input and recommendations.
  • Make a plan to hire bilingual/bicultural staff that represents the largest Latin@ community in your area.
  • 4. Think about Accessibility

    Domestic violence services and programming should consider immigration status, socio-economic status, and linguistic needs in the context of the racial, ethnic, and cultural values of the populations served.

    Consider providing services in settings where individuals live and congregate such as social service agencies, community action agencies, health centers, Latin@ centers, churches, schools, and neighborhood locales which are accessible through public transportation or walking.

    The physical facility/human environment should have décor that reflects, and is respectful of, different populations, and overall provides a physical environment that enables families to gather and feel welcome. A culture of valuing diversity is developed with active intention by staff at all levels.

    Hire bilingual/bicultural staff. Programs who rely on interpreters should be mindful of the limitations that this structure presents. For many victims it may feel as an invasion of privacy ultimately impeding rapport building between client and service provider. When utilized, interpreters must be familiar with the culture as well as language and be trained on domestic violence and sexual abuse issues. Remember that the use of children or family members as interpreters is strongly discouraged, as it may be disempowering for the victim and re-victimizing for children.

    Adopt plain language guidelines and develop materials at an appropriate reading level for the community you are working in. Guidance on language access for Limited English Proficient (LEP) survivors is available in the Special Collection, Immigrant Women and Domestic Violence.

    5. Develop Culturally Relevant Materials

    Prevention and public education materials should reflect the population. All educational materials, participant’s contracts and forms should be in Spanish and other languages commonly spoken in your community. Consider recruiting Spanish language writers, interpreters, and graphic designers to develop linguistically and culturally responsive materials. It is recommended that all materials for Latin@ communities reflect positive, empowering images showing the diversity of the population and include specific campaigns for Latina immigrant women.

    For more information, see Developing Linguistically and Culturally Responsive Materials for Latina Survivors of Domestic Violence by Alianza.

    VAWnet’s forthcoming Special Collection developed by Casa de EsperanzaDomestic Violence in Latin@ Communities (expected February 2014) will offer a variety of foundational resources to help facilitate your efforts in developing culturally responsive programming.

    What are some concrete ways that you have enhanced your outreach efforts or services for Latin@ populations in your community?

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