Why Our Work Matters: Healing Trauma in the Hispanic Community


In these ever changing times, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities, particularly for the already under-resourced Hispanic community. Living within a system that already devalues them, this community is also forced to confront another obstacle – violence.

Cases of domestic violence have increased since the onset of the pandemic. According to the The Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline, there was a 16% increase in the calls they’ve received, with a total of 28,749 calls in 2020 compared to 2019 (Blockclub Chicago, 2022). The pandemic has also made it more difficult for survivors to ask and receive help. CDC and state guidance have encouraged people to remain home and distance themselves from others outside their households. Travel restrictions make it more difficult for survivors to travel. Older folks and those with chronic conditions may be forced to stay indoors because going out in public to receive domestic violence support services poses another threat to their health. Though the number of those experiencing domestic violence is increasing, the resources available are becoming slim. Even when reaching a domestic violence shelter, the shelters can only accommodate a certain number of people due to the social distancing guidelines that have forced shelters to have fewer beds for survivors who need a place to sleep (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

In particular, survivors of the Latinx community and/or immigrants face an additional layer of barriers. The National Latin@ Network reported that approximately “1 in 3 latinas (34.4%) will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime, and 1 in 12 Latinas have experienced IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) in the past 12 months.” The Latino community holds cultural values like familialismo central to their identities, where survivors are expected to stay with their partners for the good of the family, even if it means putting themselves in danger. Additionally, there is often a language barrier for survivors who only Speak Spanish. They may call nearby shelters where services resources might not be offered in Spanish (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

Because of the fear of deportation, immigrants might be scared to reach out for support – unsure if their status may affect their eligibility to receive help. Abusers themselves may also threaten their partner with deportation or withdrawal of petitions for legal status. Similarly, abusers can use their children as leverage, threatening to take them away from immigrant survivors that are not familiar with the legal system or may be scared to contact the authorities (National Domestic Violence Hotline).

On top of these obstacles, the Hispanic community confronts another form of violence - community violence. According to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, Chicago saw 836 homicides (Chicago Suntimes, 2021). However, the violence that the Hipanic community experiences, who also live in some of the city's most under-resourced neighborhoods, is worse. In 2021, for instance, Humboldt Park with a population of 54,165 reported 6.3 homicides per 10,000 (City of Chicago's violence victimization data through Dec. 23, 2021 and Sun-Times analysis of 2020 census data Graphic by Jesse Howe/Sun-Times). As gentrification continues to displace BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) residents, folks in areas like Humboldt Park have struggled financially, and the pandemic has only made poverty worse. Many have not only been displaced from their homes, but are unable to pay rent, or have lost their job all together.

Precisely because of the years of systemic divestment in education, community programs, mental health resources, and affordable housing in these areas, the stories of Hispanic children witnessing gang violence, joining gangs at young ages, and worse – killing or even falling victims to crossfires among these gangs – have become too common. These children have limited or no access to after school programs and mentors that can help guide them. They may also face an excess number of punitive measures of punishment that exclude them from their classrooms. This often leaves the streets as their only option to find a sense of belonging. Even when their parent(s) want to engage with them, they might not be able to due to the multiple jobs they are working to sustain the household.

The systemic racism and violence that the Hispanic community faces causes trauma that not only manifests in forms of anxiety and stress in an individual who has experienced such trauma, but this trauma can also be passed down generationally. There are times when survivors become desensitized and disassociated from traumatic events and these are the ways they cope, but that does not make what happened to them okay, nor do they deserve what happened to them. These survivors are not alone and deserve the space to heal.

Our Violence Prevention & Intervention Program (VPI) works to help families and young children heal from the trauma of violence and disrupt the cycle of a potential life of violence in the future. Our program provides free services in both English and Spanish to survivors of all ages that have been impacted by domestic violence, sexual abuse, community violence, and other traumas.

There are two components to our program:

Domestic Violence Intervention: We offer free, bilingual services to people who are experiencing verbal, physical, psychological, financial, sexual, and/or emotional abuse. Our program serves individuals of all ages who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, domestic violence. Counselors/Advocates are specially trained to address the safety needs and concerns of domestic violence survivors. Both group and individual counseling are available.

Counseling in this program focuses on several things:

- Education and support related to the dynamics and effects of abuse

- Crisis intervention

- Sorting out feelings like confusion, sadness, fear, anger, and helplessness

- Implementation of safety planning and support

- Assistance with obtaining resources, such as housing, legal assistance, therapy, and more

Counseling for domestic violence survivors includes a focus on the safety needs of survivors and their families. This can mean many things to different survivors. For example, one person may need help staying safe from a physically violent partner, while another may be ready to explore how to feel safe in a new relationship. Our participants often report that talking to a counselor was the first time they were able to tell their story and be heard without judgment or blame, in a private, confidential, safe space.

Safe Start: Casa Central’s Safe Start program offers free bilingual services to help very young children, ages birth to five, and their families regain a sense of safety and well-being.

If your child or a child you know has been exposed to a violent event, you may see behavior like this:

- Afraid to be apart from you; clingy

- Anxious and fearful, jumpy, or cranky

- Trouble sleeping; nightmares

- Bet-wetting; wetting themselves

- Head and stomach aches; pain or discomfort that doesn’t stop

- Crying that doesn’t seem to stop

- Losing skills they learned at an early age

- Not interested in things they used to like

- Not showing emotions or feelings

- Withdrawing; being extra good

- Trouble concentrating

- Acting out violently at daycare or school

- Biting, hitting, pinching, shoving

What Can You Do?

For infants & toddlers who don’t talk yet:

- Be the safe person they need so much

- Hold them often; give comfort and support

- Try to keep to a routine, including quiet times and regular meals together

- Play together – play works wonders!

- If they want to talk about the violence they saw, let them

- Remain calm when they express their fears

- Keep reminding them it’s not their fault

- Be the safe one they can talk to

For children who can talk to you: If they want to talk about the violence they saw, let them. Remain calm when they express their fears. Keep reminding them it’s not their fault. Be the safe one they can talk to

Remember that talking to someone yourself can help you help the child you care about.

If you or someone you know is in need of any of the services offered by our Violence Prevention & Intervention Program, please contact us at 773.645.2376 or by email at dvhelp@casacentral.org

After business hours, you may contact the 24-hour Domestic Violence Help Line at 1.877.863.6338. If your immediate safety is at risk, please call 911.

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