March is women’s history month and we want to celebrate the amazing women who made history in Atlanta by launching one of the most innovative programs for Latina survivors of domestic violence. Caminar Latino co-founders, Dr. Julia Perilla and Sister Barbara Harrington, in partnership with Latina survivors, helped to create solutions to break the cycle of violence in a way that made sense for their community. The solutions from the original group were fundamental and evolved into the acclaimed program that exists today. As a result of the partnership, Caminar Latino has been a major contributor to the way domestic violence is seen and addressed and the importance of seeing survivors of domestic violence as central in stopping the cycle of violence.
A closer look at the organization’s beginning reveals that women’s equality was key. More specifically, Caminar Latino founders sought to change the narrative about women and how victims of domestic violence were viewed and treated. For many years, victims of domestic violence were seen from a deficits perspective where terms such as helpless and weak were often associated with victims of domestic violence. In addition, victims reported feeling weak and were usually treated as weak individuals, even by people trying to help them. Caminar Latino changed the way women were perceived and treated and in doing so, proved that the empowerment of women was crucial to creating sustainable change.
Caminar Latino worked with the women and listened to their stories and recognized that many survivors of domestic violence were strong resourceful women whose decision to stay in an abusive relationship was not one of weakness but instead survival. The difficult decision to stay was one based on helping to ensure the safety of the survivor and the children, since many survivors recognized that the most dangerous time was when they left their abusive partner. Based on this, Caminar Latino began to change how they viewed their role and specifically their work with women. When Caminar Latino began to view the women as the “experts” the trajectory and innovative programming began.
By discrediting the idea that victims were weak and helpless, and instead providing a place at the table for individuals who were most impacted by this issue, the survivors, Caminar Latino began to see sustainable change. Through the voices of the women, it was realized that the children needed services to address the violence…not just childcare. Through the voices of the women, it was discovered only by working with the men could the cycle of violence be stopped. Through the voices of the women, it was realized that Caminar Latino’s role was not to tell the women what to do, but instead offer a space where they could realize their strengths and capabilities and make their own decision about what was the next best step in their life
Today, Caminar Latino programs continue to embody the concept of gender equality by promoting independence and self-sufficiency among all program participants; men and women. Even though times have changed, the organization continues to work with program participants to provide the support that they need in a way that makes sense to them!