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Grant helps NMSU assist underserved domestic violence victims

Minority victims of domestic violence often do not get help because of limited language skills, lack of awareness of legal protection, fear of the police, or geographical or social isolation, experts in the field say.


ng to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the problem can be exacerbated for immigrant victims who may be prevented from seeking help by language barriers, distrust of the legal system because of misinformation from abusers, fear of deportation, or cultural or religious issues that prohibit them from leaving their abusers. Furthermore, abusers may control immigrant victims of domestic violence by keeping them isolated from family, friends, religious, or community leaders who speak the victim's language, threats or intimidation, emotional abuse or economic abuse, such as not allowing the victims to work or be educated.

New Mexico State University through its social work program is helping turn the tide on what the coalition calls "an epidemic affecting Americans in all communities, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background."

With help from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant, "The Minority Training Grant Stipends to Historically Black, Hispanic-Serving and Tribal Colleges and Universities," NMSU social work faculty are teaching their students how to work with domestic violence survivors, their children, and perpetrators. Methods of preventing domestic violence and how to get assistance should domestic violence occur in their communities are part of such training.

Through the grant, the students are learning from a wide array of experts whose work is somehow connected with domestic violence, said Madeline Gillette, project coordinator with NMSU's School of Social Work. Those experts include Dr. John Moraros, a medical and academic doctor who has conducted research in intimate partner violence, as well as assistant district attorneys, nurses, and experts in criminal justice, women studies, psychology and public health, Gillette said. The students will build their skills in domestic violence prevention services so they can better serve domestic violence survivors from the border area. They will be able to use this knowledge when they are placed in two domestic violence agencies: La Casa's offices in Las Cruces and Anthony and the Center Against Family Violence in El Paso, Gillette added.

"What our project is attempting to do is recruit students who not only are bilingual and who have knowledge of Hispanic communities, but also who are willing to consider that all families are different," said Martha Roditti, an NMSU assistant professor of social work who is in charge of the grant. "Our students need to be sensitive to that. Entering a family requires skills that we hope to teach our students so they can gain trust, so they can listen sufficiently. We're attempting to look at Hispanic families and to train Hispanic social workers as much as we can on the background of domestic violence and also teach them that the family is within the social context and that we can't work with them without that, without understanding their generational factors or without understanding certain development that all humans appear to go through."

Gillette added that when a domestic violence victim does not willingly seek help, gaining that person's trust can be difficult.

"You cannot be judgmental of the choices they make because they often return to the abuser," Gillette said. "Sometimes they return a number of times, and maybe it's the seventh or eighth time that they decide they really are going to leave. Some may never leave. Yet, those people still need our support."

Bob Nosbisch
May 18, 2006