News About Alianza
By RICHIE PEREZ
April 25, 2005. Cuban author Victor Rivas Rivers, an actor and former offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins, argues that domestic violence is the most urgent problem within both the Latino community and society at large. The spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence likens these crimes to acts of terrorism.
"There is no greater kind of homeland terror," he says in a sincere and somber tone, "than that which goes on behind closed doors."
His sentiments on the subject stem from his own childhood experiences, which are detailed in his new memoir, "A Private Family Matter" (Atria Books, $25), in which he retells the abuse he endured at the hands of his father.
"There were scars on my body I could identify and enumerate - marks given to me at ages four, five, seven, eight and ten because I was told I deserved to be punished," he recalls.
Alarmingly, the degree to which domestic violence plagues our society is rarely discussed. Statistics speak for themselves - 94% of men in jail are witnesses or victims of domestic violence, and 67% of 12- to 18-year-old boys incarcerated for murder are there for killing their mothers' abusers.
Meanwhile, the leading cause of women's visits to emergency rooms is related to spousal or parental abuse. The "quiet crime," as it's often called, is a hidden part of most of our lives.
Despite the grim statistics, Rivas Rivers sees hope in the growing attention that domestic violence has received over the last decade.
Organizations such as the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, the National Fatherhood and Family Institute and the National Network to End Domestic Violence are indicators of a change in perception that is slowly taking place in both Latino communities and in the U.S. as a whole.
Victor Rivas Rivers was the keynote speaker at “Latino Men Speak Out Against Domestic Violence” on April 26, 2005. For more information on his book, A Private Family Matter, click here.
El Diario/La Prensa Sección: Locales Fecha: 26 de Abril 2005
New York/ EFE — Latino culture has many traditions and domestic violence is not one of them, is the message of the campaign that was announced today in New York and that for the first time is aimed at bringing together Hispanic men nationally against this scourge.
The National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence announced an educational campaign that will take place in five cities with large Latino populations: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Antonio. The Cuban actor Víctor Rivas Rivers, a domestic violence victim in his childhood, will be one of the spokesmen.
Rivas, his siblings and his mother were close to being murdered by his father. The actor has now turned his tragic story into a book: A Private Family Matter, named after the reply he got from the police when as a 12-year-old child he told them about the torture they suffered under his father.
In his book he talks about being locked in closets, burned, hit with a hammer and kidnapped, among other cruel punishments.
Adelita Medina, Alianza’s Executive Director, said that this bilingual campaign is meant to send the message that domestic violence is not “a matter that should concern only women” nor is it a private family affair, but it is an issue that requires everyone in our communities to get involved and not remain silent about this scourge.
Several PSAs featuring Rivers will start airing in May. Another PSA featuring Lila Downs, the Mexican singer, will also deliver the message about the need for all of us to act together in order to eradicate a problem which in the United States kills 1,300 victims and injures two million every year.
The messages carried by ads will be that we must stop violence in the home, and that help is available for both victims and for those who need to change their violent behavior.
According to Alianza, men are the primary batterers, and they need to change their attitudes and behavior. “And when we speak about the aggressors, we are not speaking about strangers, we are speaking about our fathers, uncles, brothers and husbands," said Ms. Medina.
“Violence is not happening somewhere out there, in other communities, in other states, it is happening in our own families and in our communities”, she added.
Nearly 94 per cent of men incarcerated for domestic violence grew up as victims or witnesses to violence in their homes. Sixty seven per cent of young boys between 12 and 18 years of age in jail for murder are there for killing their mother’s abuser.
The organization will work with other community based groups to deliver the message, among these Alianza Dominicana in New York, and materials in English and Spanish will be distributed.
Guillermo Linares, from the New York City Mayor’s Office on Immigrant Affairs, promised to help deliver the message that “the time has come for men to assume their responsibility and for communities to commit themselves to creating a better future".
In Latino communities, although there is very little research available about domestic violence, some factors have been found to influence this behavior, including poverty, discrimination, racism, classism, homophobia and language and cultural barriers.
Other statistics reveal that the rate of domestic violence among women earning less than $10,000 dollars a year is 3.5 times higher than among women who earn more than $40,000 dollars a year.
Statistics also reveal that this type of abuse is one of the main causes for homelessness among women and their children, who live in shelters or in the streets.
In addition, statistics show that more than one out five high school girls reported having been physically or sexually abused by their partner.
Alianza launched the campaign during a media event attended by many activists and politicians, as well as domestic violence victims, such as CBS reporter Mario Bosquez, of Mexican origin, who revealed that his father abused his mother, when he was a boy.
“I am not a domestic violence survivor. I live it everyday inside my head. It’s not over. Speak about it, share it, tell others about it,” urged Bosquez.
The most recent domestic violence victims in New York were three Latinas, murdered by their partners last month.
El Diario/La Prensa - April 27, 2005
by Ana Ledo
This silent crime that causes the death of nearly 1,300 women each year across the country, has been brought to the public attention for decades by women.
But that precedent changed yesterday when well known male political leaders, members of the media and social workers denounced this type of violence, coming together in a multi-state campaign led by the National Latino Alliance for the Eliminations of Domestic Violence entitled: “Latino Men Speak Out Against Domestic Violence”.
At the restaurant Tavern on the Green in Central Park, distinguished Latinos such as Guillermo Linares, Mario Bosquez, Moisés Pérez, Rafael Pi Román and Joseph Semidei, among others, came together to launch the public awareness campaign that will begin airing on Univisión, the national television network during the month of May.
“Latino culture is very diverse and domestic violence is not a
part of it,” said Adelita Medina, Executive Director of the National
Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, which at the
same time announced a November fundraising concert in San Antonio, Texas.
The campaign will take place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami
and San Antonio.
“I am not a survivor of domestic abuse. I live it everyday in my head; it’s not over,” said Bosquez.
Each year in the United States almost 5.3 million women over 18 years of age are victimized by their partners, according to statistics from the National Centers for Disease Control. Injuries suffered as a result of domestic violence is the main reason women wind up in he emergency room and is one of the main causes of homelessness among families.
In New York City, most cases of domestic violence are reported among immigrant communities. And according to Commissioner Yolanda Jiménez, from the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, in almost all cases resulting in death, the victims had never reported the abuse to the authorities.
EL DIARIO - 05/08/2005
Some weeks ago I received this book by Víctor Rivas Rivers, the Cuban author and activist against domestic violence, and I could not put it down until had read the last word.
A Private Family Matter is Víctor’s moving story of growing up in a home with a very violent and abusive father. The 371-page book tells us about a man who would systematically beat and torture his children and his wife; and about how a child like Víctor was able to survive so much abuse. As the story goes, the mother discovered her husband’s violent behavior on the day they were married, after he cut up all her dresses with a pair of scissors. But she forgave her husband, probably thinking it would never happen again, or because she had no other alternative but to remain married. From then on, everything was violence and insults. The book tells us that this man emigrated from Cuba to Chicago, and then sent for his wife and children, but when they arrived in the middle of winter, he left them stranded at the airport without warm clothing and not knowing where to go. Living in Chicago, Víctor was the object of constant beatings and witnessed the many beatings his father inflicted on his mother, even when she was pregnant. They then moved to Los Angeles, from where his father kidnapped Víctor and his three brothers and took them on a car trip that almost cost them their life (to Miami) while their mother was hospitalized. Once, Víctor went to a police station to file charges. After showing the police the scars on his body, he was told they could do nothing because it was “a private family matter.” But in Miami, the author was able to get assistance from other people in the community and from his football coaches in school and at the university. Fortunately, and thanks to their support, Víctor joined the Miami Dolphins and became a movie star, acting alongside actors such as Antonio Banderas and Eddie Murphy.
This heartbreaking story shows us how important it is to join forces to put an end to the problem of domestic violence, and to help the victims of these crimes, which are not only women, but girls and boys. On April 26, in New York City A Private Family Matter was released at the restaurant Tavern on the Green in New York, during a luncheon event sponsored by the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence (Alianza). Present at the event — Latino Men Speak Out Against Domestic Violence— were well-known Latino community leaders who spoke publicly against domestic violence. Víctor Rivas Rivers was the guest of honor and keynote speaker. The importance of his testimony and that of other Latino men to end violence cannot be measured. Víctor Rivers’s book, although conveying a very sad story, also gives us hope that all other victims can be saved from the monster of domestic violence with the support of people in our communities.
A Private Family Matter is an excellent book, published by ATRIA Books.
Latina.com - Our Culture
By Claudia S. Meléndez Salinas
Twelve years ago, Luis Ortega went to jail for beating up his girlfriend. Since then, his life has taken a remarkable turn, and now he heads a groundbreaking movement devoted to ending domestic abuse in our community. His inspiring story proves that the violence can and must stop!
It is hard to imagine, as you sit across the table from Luis Ortega, 35, that this round-faced Salvadoreño was once capable of almost killing a woman. Here’s a man who feels proud about teaching his 4-year-old son how to cook, a man who boasts about viewing his wife as an equal. And yet 12 years ago, after finding out that his girlfriend had walked out on him, a drunken Luis went looking for her. When he learned that she was hiding at her brother-in-law’s apartment, he first beat up the brother-in-law and then came after her, dragging her by the hair out into the street. The neighbors called police, and Luis was arrested and sent to jail.
That could have been the end of his story. But as it turns out, it was the beginning of the most important chapter of his life—the one in which Luis would set out not only to transform himself but also to become a leader of a groundbreaking effort that helps other Latino abusers end their destructive ways. Although most domestic violence–intervention programs in the United States focus on helping women escape or teaching abusers how to turn aggressiveness into assertiveness, the one Luis leads, specially created for Latinos, appeals instead to the men’s strong sense of family and confronts head-on the tradition of machismo in our culture. “A lot of men have been raised with the wrong set of values,” Luis says. “We need to be reeducated so we can begin to live a different life.”
Fundamentally, the program, which Luis has coordinated since 1999, centers on the idea that an abuser is indeed capable of change, if he is shown the way and if he genuinely, deeply commits himself to the effort. (Still, Luis points out that unless the men are truly serious about change, the female victims must leave their abusers in order to protect themselves.) With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reporting that nearly one in four women in this country—Latina or otherwise—has been physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner, the idea, Luis says, is to save lives—both women’s and men’s.
Apparently, his approach has been working. Although national statistics show that nearly half of the men who participate in batterer programs reassault their partners within three years after joining a counseling group, anecdotal evidence suggests that 90 percent of the men who participate in Luis’s San Francisco–based program, called Programa de Hombres Contra la Violencia Intrafamiliar (POCOVI), are not rearrested for domestic violence.
Luis isn’t the only one to see the unique needs of the Latino community when it comes to domestic violence. A mid-1990s report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recognized that traditional intervention programs with their “one size fits all” approach don’t function as well for minority communities. Among Latinos, for example, the family-centered culture can make it very difficult for mujeres to leave their compañeros, the father of their children—though they desperately want the abuse to stop.
That explains why, in 1997, a group of Latino domestic violence advocates banded together “to come up with our own ways of approaching the issue,” says Adelita Medina, executive director of New York City’s National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence. Among the panel’s conclusions: In addition to focusing on keeping families together as opposed to encouraging women to leave, domestic violence programs for Latinos should have a strong spiritual component, and abusers must be part of the solution if such abuse is to stop.
But breaking the cycle “is not easy,” admits Luis, who estimates that 3 percent of men who attend POCOVI are beyond help, usually because of drug addiction, and their women should move on. It is the other 97 percent, however, on which he prefers to focus. “Men say, ‘I don’t need anybody,’ and inside we’re screaming for help. I wish somebody had been there for me when I was in trouble.”
The power of change
Growing up in Aldea Bolaños, a farming town half-an-hour away from Santa Ana, in El Salvador, Luis would watch his older male relatives hit women. “My brother used to tell me that his woman wasn’t happy if he didn’t beat her regularly,” he says. And so in 1990, when Luis found a girlfriend only a few months after moving to San Francisco to escape his country’s civil war, it didn’t take him long to start doing what he had seen throughout his childhood. Once, in the heat of an argument, he even held a knife to his girlfriend’s neck. “I was on the verge of killing her at least three times,” he says.
The last time came in the summer of 1992, when she dared to question him after he came home from a night of drinking. The couple argued, and Luis stormed off; when he returned a few hours later, his girlfriend and all of her possessions were gone. Drunk and furious, he tracked her down at her sister’s apartment; when his girlfriend’s brother-in-law answered and told Luis, “She’s not here,” Luis forced his way inside, where he found his girlfriend hiding. Luis dragged her out of the apartment by the hair, and when her brother-in-law interceded Luis, resumed fighting with him so viciously, the man fell and broke his nose. Realizing the violence had gotten out of control, Luis then returned to his apartment, where the police arrested him a short time later.
After 10 days in jail, Luis was ordered by a judge to complete a yearlong domestic violence program. He dropped out after 10 classes, but his probation officer forced him to return. “I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to lead my life,” Luis says. “What was being proposed were things I thought ridiculous—stop partying, stop going to bars, stop doing things I was doing. I would think, How am I going to live such a boring life?”
Luis dropped out two more times and was finally given an ultimatum by the courts: Finish the sessions once and for all—or spend a year in jail. Reluctantly, he returned to the class, and this time something clicked. Over the next several months, he started to see the need for change. By the time his rehabilitation ended, Luis knew that not only had he found a new way of life, but he had also found his calling.
The measure of a man
A woman is supposed to cook and clean. She is supposed to look after the children 24-7, even if she works full-time outside the home. Above all, she is to obey her man unquestioningly. And if she fails to do any of these things, why shouldn’t it be okay for a man to hit her to remind her who’s in charge?
Ideas like these are what Luis confronts over and over again, whenever the latest abuser assigned to his 52-week POCOVI counseling program shows up for his first session. Initially the men are resistant to change, participating in the weekly, two-hour counseling groups only because most of them have struck a deal with a court that says if they want to avoid jail, they must attend POCOVI.
As in Luis’s case, that threat is usually enough to put most men on the path to change. (Although when Luis feels a patient is unreachable, “We help women come up with an escape plan,” he says, so they can leave.) And so, usually within a few weeks of first sitting in one of the swivel chairs arranged in a small circle inside a classroom at a Bay Area community center, the men slowly start to shift their way of thinking. “To get to a [good] point, the man needs to be in class for a year,” Luis says. “If he’s not in the class for a year, he cannot analyze situations in the way we are asking.”
The men become accountable to other hombres in their group, making a series of promises, including one to stop drinking (most men in the program have a problem with alcohol). They don’t sign any papers; nor do they swear on a Bible. Rather, they give one another their palabra, which is supposed to be worth more than gold among Latino men. When a man joins the program, his peers also give him enough change to make three calls if he feels he’s in imminent danger—namely, if he’s about to hurt his compañera.
Most important, the men must own up to their violent behavior by talking about it. On a recent afternoon, a young, dark-skinned man wearing a denim jacket raises his hand to speak. He opens up about his lowest moment as an abuser. “I saw my 3-year-old cry when I hit her mother,” he says, looking down at the floor and speaking in a low voice, as if afraid to relive the scene. “I feel so bad about that. I wish I could take it back.” From their chairs, the men around him murmur their support, and then a chorus of “Yo te apoyo” fills the room.
During the class, such confessionals will lead to an exploration of why a man hits a woman in the first place—and why that is never okay. This is where Luis comes in. Using a white board to jot down concepts such as “Yo real,” he talks the men through different scenarios that could cause a man to become violent, and how to avoid them. “When we feel pain, it’s easier to use violence to hide it,” he tells the men, who look at him attentively, their feet firmly planted on the floor and their arms crossed as they lean forward. “An example: If my compañera tells me, ‘Our baby’s sick,’ and I snap, ‘And what do you want me to do?’ that’s a lot easier than saying, ‘This hurts me; let me make a plan about how to deal with it.’ So we yell at her to deal with it because we don’t want to, and in the process we’ve hurt her by not taking responsibility for our baby. Being violent takes seconds, but being intimate takes time—and it demands taking responsibility.”
Luis is living proof. Today, 12 years after that fateful day he landed in jail, Luis—who apologized to his ex as part of his recovery—has settled in San Francisco with his wife of 10 years, a nurse’s assistant who cooks for him only if she feels like it, and their two children. (In addition to his son, Luis has a 10-year-old daughter.) “In everything I do, I make sure I don’t negatively affect my compañera or my children,” he says. “My life has changed for the better.”
It is precisely this kind of change that he is trying, every day, to bring about in other Latinos. “Sometimes I feel like I’m battling a monster and only pulling tiny hairs out of it,” he says. “Maybe violence will never end, but with one man who changes his behavior, with one man who does not mistreat his children any longer, it makes a difference.”
Photo Credit: Lenny Gonzalez / Published: 04/05/2005
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