Established in 1984, the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) is the oldest community based, bilingual and bicultural domestic violence program in New York State. VIP is located in the community of East Harlem in New York City and employs a three prong approach to addressing domestic violence in Latino communities; these are: direct services, community education and community organizing.
Direct Services. At the direct service level, VIP provides bilingual/bicultural individual and group counseling, hotline services, children’s programs, information and referral services, court accompaniment, know your rights and other advocacy training, job readiness counseling, safe apartments and transitional housing assistance. The many strengths of Latino culture, families and communities are incorporated and celebrated in culturally sensitive programming, foods and celebrations, thus enabling new program participants to feel welcomed, accepted and empowered. Whenever possible, formerly battered women and women from the community are hired. These women are then trained to become program counselors and advocates thus creating a new cadre of Latina leaders committed to ending domestic violence. On a daily basis, this cadre of women transmits anti-violence messages and critical information about resources to their neighbors, families and friends.
VIP uses a cultural filter in developing its programming. Understanding the centrality of family and community in the lives of Latinas, VIP staff are cognizant that many clients will not consider leaving their homes as an option, and that it may take some Latinas a much longer period of time to address the violence in their lives. As such, VIP has developed a full range of non-residential services aimed at helping the Latina stay safe, as well as providing her with educational and employment opportunities so that she may achieve self sufficiency and her own empowerment.
Communty Education. VIP’s community education strategies draw upon a rich legacy of popular education strategies developed by Paulo Freire and utilized throughout Latin America.112 At the most fundamental level, VIP’s community education program is premised on the understanding that without family and community support, the Latina may either stay or return to a violent relationship for the sake of family unity. As noted earlier, Latinas/os belong to a collectivist culture where interdependence rather than independence is highly valued and where family and community play a central role in Latinas’ lives.
VIP’s extensive and ongoing community education campaign is designed to develop community consciousness about how domestic violence not only hurts Latino families and children but is a betrayal of the cultural values Latinas/os hold dear (e.g. well-being of the family, respeto, etc.). For example, entry level education efforts for survivors emphasize the harmful effects of domestic violence on the children and family and the potential for a multi-generational cycle of abuse to take root, harming new generations of Latino families and communities for decades to come.
Through these efforts, VIP’s intended strategy is to orchestrate a “tipping point,” in other words, building broadbased community intolerance to domestic violence that will erode the often well-intentioned but misguided messages on the part of family members, friends and neighbors to tolerate the violence “ for the sake of the children or family.”
Community education presentations are seen as a precursor to the process of developing community solutions and, therefore, they are an ongoing aspect of VIP’s work. VIP conducts community forums and charlas (chats/discussion groups) at community centers, churches and schools. Outreach takes place anywhere that Latinas/os congregate (street corners, bodegas, child care centers, laundromats, beauty parlors, cultural centers, etc.) and through the Spanish language press, television, and radio. Understanding the importance of interpersonal relationships to building trust and creating change, VIP staff also participate in all aspects of community life including: local health fairs, community improvement projects, cultural festivals and social events.
Community Organizing. Building community-wide intolerance to domestic violence is only the first step. Effecting change also requires holding community institutions accountable for actively working to end domestic violence and providing appropriate services to domestic violence survivors. At the time of VIP’s founding (1984), local police precincts tended to ignore the complaints of battered women or at best walked the batterer around the block and left the battered woman alone to deal with the aftermath of “police intervention.” Community health institutions often failed to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and mental health providers tended to blame the survivor for accepting and/or perpetuating the violence.
Against this backdrop, VIP formed the first community-wide, domestic violence coalition in the history of New York City. Comprised of a wide array of community agencies and advocates (e.g. police, health and mental health providers, child welfare and women and family service groups, etc.) the East Harlem Coalition Against Domestic Violence works to hold community institutions accountable for working to end domestic violence, improving services and coordination, as well as, advocating for additional resources and funding to address domestic violence within the community.
For more information about VIP visit www.vipmujeres.org.