Escaping domestic violence in Snohomish County, more Spanish resources needed
By Polly Keary, Editor
Jacoba Ramirez-Rodriguez sought help from law enforcement in the days before her husband fatally attacked her on a street corner in Monroe Friday, May 24.
Over the course of a 14-year relationship, which became a marriage in 2007, she and Oscar Garcia-Pacheco had struggled, and according to the protection order that she signed three days prior to the assault, he had been striking her since the year 2000.
After spending many years hoping things would change, Ramirez-Rodriguez finally sought a divorce in April and police protection in May. But her story ended in tragedy, with her enraged husband stalking her to their downtown vitamin business and stabbing her fatally as she tried to retrieve the protection order from her car in order to serve it on him.
There are many barriers that people, men and women alike, face in escaping safely from abusive relationships, a domestic violence expert explained last week. And for Hispanic women, there are specific challenges that make getting help even harder, including language barriers, lack of Spanish language resources, cultural norms and fear over money and immigration status.
Now, Monroe police officers are looking for ways to make access to help and resources more available to the Hispanic community, in hopes of increasing the chances that people like Jacoba Ramirez-Rodriguez will be able to safely get out of violent relationships before it becomes too late.
The difficulty of leaving
Getting out of domestic violence situations can be difficult for anyone.
For those who haven’t endured such a relationship, it can be difficult to understand the fears and hopes that can lead a victim to stay in an abusive situation.
According to Sarah Steininger, interim director of Lifewire, a King County resource center for victims of domestic violence, abuse often starts slowly and increases in severity over time.
It may start with verbal abuse, then escalate to irrational jealousy, which was a factor in the Garcia-Pacheco case. An abuser may make it hard for a survivor to hold a job, have friendships or stay in touch with family. The perpetrator may cycle between kindness and cruelty, or blame the victim, or suggest the victim is crazy, making it hard for the survivor to assess his or her own situation.
“Once you’re in it, it’s hard to see the forest for all the trees,” said Steininger. “They might think, ‘Is it really so bad I should leave?’ And once they get to the point they should leave, it’s really gotten difficult.”
Abusers often successfully undermine the confidence of a victim, as well.
“I talk to a lot of survivors that say, ‘My partner told me I could never make it on my own, I would never get a job, I’m too stupid, I could never get enough money to make it,’” she said.
Sometimes it is fear of harm to the victim’s children that paralyzes a person.
Often, as Ramirez-Rodriguez explained in her petition for a protection order, the victim hopes for change.
She described an incident in 2000 in which her partner hit her repeatedly with a belt, blacked her eye and locked her out of the home overnight.
“I did not call the police because I always thought he would change,” she wrote.
Hope for change is very compelling to people who still love an abusive partner, Steininger went on.
“The partner is never all bad,” she said. “There’s always something good. Love is a strong reason people stay.”
Then there is the very real threat of harm or death to a person trying to leave.
“When the partner is saying ‘I will kill you,’ or ‘I will kidnap the kids and you will never see them again,’ those are extremely compelling threats to survivors,” Steininger said.
For Latina women, escape is harder
There are several factors that make leaving a dangerous relationship especially difficult for some Latina survivors.
The role of culture is a matter of some academic debate, but anecdotal evidence suggests that immigrants from more patriarchal societies may tend to view domestic violence as a “family matter,” and with less criticism than has come to be the norm in the United States.
“In Mexico, domestic violence is not as abnormal,” said Monica Sandoval, one of three officers on the Monroe police force who speak Spanish and can assist survivors with getting help.
“And I think there is a fear of people being deported, breaking up families, and they wonder, ‘How are we going to eat and live?’” said Deb Willis, Administrative Bureau Director with the Monroe Police Department.
The fear of feeling as if one has betrayed a partner can keep a Latina survivor from leaving, too, said Steininger.
“If their abuser is undocumented, they are afraid to call police,” she said. “It feels like a huge betrayal. They are afraid they will be rejected by their community.”
And whereas in some cases, strong social connections and religious communities can reduce the instance of domestic violence, in others it is shown to be associated with increased risk. Some survivors have reported that some churches encouraged them not to go to police, but to allow church authorities to council the perpetrator.
A typical strategy of abusers is to separate the survivor from his or her support systems, including family and friends. When a survivor is in another country, that makes the distance from help that much greater, Steininger added.
But the biggest factor that makes escape difficult for Spanish speakers, according to Monroe police, is the severe shortage of Spanish-language resources.
No se habla español
A phone call to Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County last week reached a menu of options, but there was no option for information in Spanish.
“There are no support groups in Spanish, no Spanish-speaking advocates, and only one brochure printed in Spanish,” said Sergeant Cindy Chessie of the Monroe Police Department, who is now spearheading an effort to increase outreach in Spanish for domestic violence. “And there is a 24-hour hotline in Snohomish County, but it’s in English,” she said.
Skagit County, by contrast, she said, not only has a lot of resources for Spanish speakers, the county website for domestic violence resources is bilingual.
“I think the main challenge is not having Spanish-speaking advocates,” said Sandoval. “It is hard to get services if you don’t have someone speaking your language.”
And when victims do find their way to the police, although forms requesting protection are available in Spanish, they have to be filled out in English.
Spanish speakers who are aware of language line resources can get a translator on the phone to help with communication, but many don’t know of the service, and among those who do, the service can be off-putting.
“It’s very impersonal and cumbersome,” said Willis.
Currently, in hopes that no one ever again suffers the fate of Jacoba Ramirez-Rodriguez, members of the Monroe police force are approaching Spanish-speaking clergy and community leaders to identify ways to make sure that Spanish speakers, and undocumented people too, are aware that domestic violence is not accepted in the U.S., that there are laws in place to protect people from it, and that there are ways to get help and services.
Where to turn
There are many ways to get help for those experiencing intimate abuse, and some resources for Spanish-speakers might surprise them.
Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County offers a 24-hour crisis hotline that can steer callers to emergency shelter, legal advocacy, support groups and education about domestic violence. They have a safe and secure 30-day shelter at a confidential location, too.
If a person fears for his or her safety (while 85 percent of reported domestic violence is of women, a startling 2010 report by the Center for Disease Control found that as many as 40 percent of victims of repeated, severe physical abuse are male), that person can seek police protection.
A protection order can prohibit an abuser from visiting a workplace, can make an abuser leave a home, can prohibit a person from even being anywhere near the victim, or from calling on the phone or contacting the person in any way.
The first step is to fill out the form and turn it in to police or the court. That results in a temporary order for protection. Someone, either the person requesting protection or the police, has to give the order to the abuser before the order can be enforced.
Jacoba Ramirez-Rodriguez chose to be the one to give the order to her husband. It was while she was going to the car to get the order that he fatally attacked her.
“I would never recommend that a victim of domestic violence do that,” said Chessie.
Once the order has been served, then police can arrest the abuser if he or she breaks any of the rules set forth in the order.
“We are proactive,” said Willis.
Because getting protection orders is something that can be done to harass an innocent person, too, the person getting the order will have to go to court, usually with two weeks, and explain to a judge why the order is necessary. If the judge agrees, then the order is good for a year or more.
There are also advocates who can help guide people through the system, as well as help them find resources and look for funding and housing.
There are eight support groups in Snohomish County for survivors; to learn more, contact Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County (see sidebar, below).
There is also a shelter in Monroe, at an undisclosed location; the Monroe police can direct victims there.
For Spanish speakers, the Monroe Police Department has three people on staff who can translate and help fill out forms. They need not fear questions about their immigration status; they can get help whether here legally or not.
And there is a part-time domestic violence advocate in Monroe; Sister Barbara, a nun at St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church and a police chaplain, is trained to help and is very experienced.
And one thing many Hispanic people may not know is, if their abuser is a U.S. citizen, they may be able to get a temporary visa that allows them and their dependents to stay in the country while getting help. Called the U Visa, womenslaw.org strongly recommends that victims consult with an immigration lawyer familiar with U Visas before applying.
How to help
In nearly every case of the murder of a domestic partner, there were people who knew something was wrong, said Sarah Steininger of Lifewire.
“For every person perpetrating, there are other people seeing and not saying anything,” she said. “They don’t know what to do or say. We would like to build those skills in what we call the bystanders.”
Ideally, she said, community members, including friends, rabbis, co-workers, relatives and others will speak up, offering support and encouraging the person to seek help.
And key to permanently solving the problem of domestic violence is teaching children how not to become abusers.
Currently, Lifewire is trying to reach young people through coaches, who can be important role models.
“We are implementing a curriculum called Coaching Boys Into Men,” she said. “Coaches use it with their teams. It covers issues of healthy relationships, violence, bullying and healthy masculinities in young boys.”
As was horrifyingly reinforced May 24 in Monroe with the fatal attack on Jacoba Ramirez-Rodriguez, law enforcement alone cannot prevent the worst from happening.
It will take an entire community working together, letting people know that there is help and where to get it, and making sure that people can get help in the language they speak, to reduce the risk of catastrophic violence to as low as possible.
And the work of changing cultural attitudes that perpetuate family violence requires a community effort, too.
“I think it takes an education campaign,” said Sgt. Chessie. “In the ’50s and ’60s we didn’t talk about domestic violence, either. It was a family issue; the police didn’t get involved.”
So police in Monroe are looking for people willing to help in the effort to educate and assist.
“We need partners,” said Willis. “Community organizations, individuals willing to help on a health fair, agencies, whoever.”
To learn how to get your organization or community group involved in the effort to combat domestic violence, call the Monroe Police Department at (360) 794-6300.
Domestic violence resources
This is the most important resource for people who are afraid that they are in a dangerous situation, or for people who have been hurt and need help.
Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County
24-Hour crisis line: 425-25-ABUSE (425-252-2873)
Washington State Hotline:
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
1 (800) 799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233)
Spanish language services offered
Protection Order Office
To get an application for a protection order:
If you are afraid that an abuser may search your computer history, there are computers available at the public library.
A family resource center in Everett that offers translation, help with forms and documents, and referrals to services for Spanish and Russian speakers.
English and Russian (425) 355-6005
Spanish (425) 513-2880
Monroe Police Department
818 W. Main St. Monroe, WA 98272
Spanish-speaking help is available.
Lifewire is a Bellevue organization, but can direct people to resources in other areas. Spanish-speaking help is available, and Lifewire has a Latina Outreach Program.
Help is available 24 hours daily at (425) 746-1940.
Also visit http://www.edvp.org.
Futures without Violence
This is an education and outreach program aimed at preventing kids from growing up to be abusive. It includes the program Coaching Boys into Men. While that program is based in east King County, volunteers will discuss the program and advise interested coaches from other areas.