Existe Ayuda (Help Exists) Toolkit
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About the Toolkit


Agencies that serve Latina/o victims have identified five challenges that they currently face:

Lack of Bilingual and Bicultural Direct-Service Staff and Volunteers

Many rape crisis centers do not have a Spanish-speaking advocate available, so the phrase, "I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish" may be the only response many Spanish-speaking victims receive. In other cases, children or other family members of monolingual Spanish-speaking victims are used as interpreters. This can cause secondary victimization of family/child interpreters and may create additional problems for the agency and the victim as well. (Although secondary victims such as friends and family of the primary victim are not the direct targets of an attack, they often experience difficulties, such as loss of security and trust, that would benefit from support services (GMU Sexual Assault Services, 2009).)

Additionally, without specific criteria to determine the meaning of "bilingual," it will continue to be a loosely defined term that includes anyone who has a basic working knowledge of a second language but who may not be able to effectively communicate with or truly understand clients. Having a single part-time staff member or volunteer who speaks Spanish does not make a bilingual program.

Identifying a center’s limitations in offering services in a second language is a must; not doing so contributes to the re-victimization of Spanish-speaking survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence who seek assistance. To accomplish an acceptable level of bilingual service availability, a program must be willing and able to test or evaluate its capability.

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Lack of Bilingual and Bicultural Trainers

"Confianza" or trust issues bear heavily on Latina/o interactions, especially when dealing with very private and personal issues such as sexual violence. Without a competent pool of bilingual and bicultural trainers, victim service agencies cannot effectively promote the inclusion and meaningful participation of Latina/o communities.

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Lack of Bilingual and Bicultural Materials

Many of the Spanish-language materials offered by victim service agencies are literal translations of literature originally created in English. It is important to note that translation is not a matter of simply replacing English words with similar words in a second language; it is about finding culturally appropriate ways of conveying the full meaning of something from one language to another.

Speaking a second language does not necessarily qualify a person without translation skills to develop or translate materials in a second language. Yet this is happening throughout the Nation as some directors with limited budgets attempt to draw upon the Spanish-language capabilities of available Latina/o victim advocates, without the skill to measure exactly what these capabilities are. The quality of internal translations may also suffer when this work is added to an already taxed victim service schedule. Many Latina/o victim advocates report being asked to provide translation services for other departments and even other agencies, in addition to their own workload.

In addition to these basic second language considerations, victim advocates who are charged with developing or translating materials or online content should consider the different acculturation levels that may exist and respect the dialects that may be spoken within their agency service area. The large influx of Latinas/os in the United States, emigrating from different North, Central, and South American countries and the Caribbean, has led to a greater number of Spanish dialects.

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Variations in Social or Cultural Background

The influence of social or cultural background cannot be underestimated during the disclosure and intake process. To ensure the effective continuation of care, each Latina/o survivor’s unique experience, perception, and history need to be taken into consideration. How the assault is referred to is as important as what is communicated. Latinas/os may refer to sexual violence without using words such as "rape" or "sexual assault." The words "me molestó" (he/she molested me) and "me faltó el respeto" (he/she disrespected me) may also be references to sexual assault, depending on the variation of Spanish being spoken.

For example, a 2006 study revealed valuable information about how Mexican-American women communicate their experiences after being raped. Narrative analysis of open-ended interviews with 62 female Native American, Mexican-American, and Anglo women who had survived rape revealed the following communication tendencies of Mexican-American women (Bletzer and Koss, 2006):

  • They tended to merge overall impact with immediate impact of the assault.
  • They were reluctant to discuss their experiences and were typically silent on symptoms that accompanied the rape.
  • The gravity of the impact of sexual violence on their lives was described as being of "colossal proportions" long after the assault occurred.
  • Married Mexican-American women were less likely than other women to immediately define their experiences of forced sex by their husbands as "rape."

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Issues With Web Site Accessibility

According to Internet World Stats, based on the number of Internet users in September 2009, the Spanish language is ranked third among the top languages used on the Internet with 411,631,985 users worldwide (Internet World Stats, 2009). Additionally, survey results from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicate that Latina/o adults are increasing their use of the Internet faster than other ethnic groups. The growth of online access is seen largely among groups with typically very low rates of Internet use such as those without a high school diploma (Pew Hispanic Center, 2009b). Recognizing the draw of the Internet and social media, many corporations are increasing their Spanish-language outreach efforts. In December 2009, AT&T announced its Latina/o social media channels on Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube.

More than 70 percent of the Latina/o victim advocates and allies from 22 states who participated in an Arte Sana survey in 2009 reported not having enough bilingual staff. The lack of bilingual staff is evident at all levels—direct victim services, state coalition training and programs, and community outreach—but it is especially evident in the absence of Spanish-language material on victim services Web sites. In September 2009, Arte Sana reviewed the Web site content of state and national victim advocacy coalitions, agencies, and organizations in 16 states with the largest Latina/o populations. The review revealed that only three domestic violence state coalitions and six state sexual assault coalitions offered information for survivors in Spanish on their Web sites.

Addressing these five challenges, the Existe Ayuda project was developed for and by Latina victim advocates and allies to enhance outreach work with underserved Spanish-speaking victims.

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