Community Connections: Men, Gender, and Violence

Caminar Latino began in 1990, as the first support group for Spanish-speaking battered Latinas in Georgia. The agency affirmed from the beginning that the voices of battered Latinas would be the guiding force behind the program. This began to rapidly generate program innovations. The first of these had to do with children and teenagers. The women asked the advocates for a special program that could address the effects of violence on their children. With input from the women, groups for children and adolescents were established. Next, the women requested groups for their abusive partners. They argued that the reality of their daily lives would not change in significant ways unless their partners, with whom most of them continued to live, could get services to address their use of violence. The women also requested that the men’s groups meet on the same evenings and at the same location as the women’s and children’s groups. This was a controversial departure from traditional practices, where men’s and women’s groups are kept very separate.

Caminar Latino decided to listen to the voices of battered Latinas. All members of the agency clinical team supported the women’s request. This created a great deal of trepidation and concern on the part of mainstream battered women’s services providers. The idea of providing a batterer intervention program in the same location and at the same time as the women’s and children’s groups was seen as potentially increasing the danger to the victims and their children. The women advocates from Caminar Latino, as well as the women participating in the groups, gave their unequivocal support, arguing that the ongoing communication, consultation, and supervision of the advocates would provide the necessary structure for working with the men. The team carefully designed and set in place strategies to address safety issues.

The program currently includes two battered women’s support groups, two 24-session batterer intervention groups, and four children’s groups that meet concurrently, though on separate floors (men are not allowed on the floor where the women meet). The women’s voices continue to guide the program philosophy as well as the day-to-day program functioning. For example, issues that are raised by Latinas attending the groups are consistently brought back to the men’s group. Children’s voices are also incorporated into program curricula, procedures, and process.

The most recent initiative, which is still in its planning phase, is a monthly potluck dinner in which couples who have gone through the entire program and who wish to continue to work on themselves and their relationship will have the opportunity of meeting together to dialogue about topics that they will help to identify and coordinate. This latest innovation is a request from a number of women who had been coming to the program for a substantial period of time beyond the time of their partners’ court mandates. Interestingly, their partners have enthusiastically supported the idea. The network of families who are jointly working towards a non-violent relationship will thus provide an important resource within the Latino community itself.

In addition, Caminar Latino takes into consideration the importance of family celebrations and has supported some traditions that have developed within the program. Once a year, the day before Thanksgiving, for example, there is a potluck in which the men and women (participants, staff, and volunteers) bring traditional dishes to share with everyone present (which often includes Mission staff as well). The sense of community that this has generated has made this one of the most anticipated events of the program. Another event is the yearly “clothesline” project in which the women and children decorate t-shirts with messages about domestic PAGE 12. violence. The t-shirts are then placed on clotheslines throughout the mission building. Facilitators and members of the adolescent group make presentations at three Sunday masses (attended by over 1,500 people each week) and distribute pamphlets, ribbons, and other materials about domestic and sexual violence. It is a very powerful experience that usually results in additional women accessing the program and creates the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with men regarding domestic violence.

From Caminar Latino’s perspective, it is not sufficient to look toward the transformation of individual batterers. Transforming and undoing oppression must also include an active community involvement aspect. As a result, Caminar Latino is actively engaged in education, advocacy, and network building at the local, state, national, and international levels. One of the most meaningful and effective collaborations with which the program has been involved is Tapestri, Inc.: The Immigrant and Refugee Coalition to End Gender-Based Oppression.

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