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Caminar Latino, Atlanta, Georgia

An Ecological Approach to Addressing Domestic Violence

Caminar Latino, Inc. emerged in response to the needs of abused Latinas in Georgia. It began in 1990 as the first support group for Spanish speaking battered women in the state. The children’s groups, first started in 1993, as a babysitting service offered to the women and has evolved into a comprehensive youth program over time. In 1995 a male batterers intervention group was added to the program at the request of the women. Participants argued that their lives would not change in significant ways unless their partner, with whom most of them continued to live, could also get help.

Since 1990 the program has worked with women, men and youth from over a thousand Latino families affected by
domestic violence. Since its inception, Caminar Latino has partnered with faith communities, who have provided space
and resources for the program. Due to the deep respect the overwhelming majority of immigrant Latinas/os have for the
church (regardless of their denomination), the location within a church building has an added element of safety for women and children.

Caminar Latino uses a human rights and social justice approach and its philosophy is informed by the ideas of concientización, liberation, and transformation. Incorporating Paulo Freire’s popular education concepts, the support groups for survivors, the intervention groups for men who have used violence, the groups for adolescents and children, and the supervision of volunteers, team members, and students are all conducted in a non-hierarchical manner.

Women’s Program

The women’s support and reflection groups provide survivors the opportunity to explore the meaning of their abuse from a social and cultural perspective that takes into account their status as immigrants as well as their gender, economic, ethnic and class membership. In addition to support, the groups provide awareness and information regarding topics such as the dynamics of and types of domestic violence, safety plans, legal issues, self-esteem, parenting, educational opportunities, child development, health topics, and sexuality, among others. Women are accompanied to court appointments, assisted in obtaining temporary protective orders, and referred to other community resources, as needed. Group members play an active role in the ongoing development and evaluation of the program and are encouraged to provide input regarding new education topics and ways to improve services. The women’s program is a good example of the potential that exists within ethnic communities to develop core groups of trained individuals. Two of the current group facilitators are former members of the survivors’ group.

Men’s Program

The men’s education and concientización program is a 24-session intervention certified by the state of Georgia. The
two-level group format utilizes a modified version of Antonio Ramirez’s CECEVIM model. The first level group consists of 10 sessions that follow a structured class format. The second level group is comprised of individuals who have not used physical violence against their partners for 10 weeks and pass an oral exam of the material covered in the first level. This group has a thematic structure and focuses more specifically on sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse. The program does not utilize reading assignments, given the limited reading ability of many Latino immigrants, the significance of the oral tradition in Latino culture, and very importantly, to respect the dignity of the men who may not know how to read. Because of the high co-occurrence of domestic violence and substance abuse in the Latino community, the men’s program includes a weekly substance abuse education component.

The idea of concientización requires that former batterers refrain from committing future acts of violence not only because of the legal and economic consequences that could ensue, but because in their new understanding of themselves and their place in the world, new acts of violence would compromise their integrity as human beings who are struggling toward nonviolence. The remarkably high program completion rates and negligible recidivism suggests that this approach is relevant and appropriate for Latino participants.

Youth Program

Currently the youth program includes three sharing groups (ages 4-7, 8-11, and adolescents), as well as a playgroup for
infants and toddlers. The program curriculum contains common topics that are tailored for each age level (family/self,
feelings, anger, relationships, bullying, violence, drugs and alcohol, safety planning, self-esteem, dreams/options, etc.).
In the safe space provided by the groups, children are encouraged to explore the experience of violence in their families
through a series of exercises, games, discussions, role-play, etc. The curriculum also includes opportunities to access their cultural roots through dance, music, songs, stories, crafts, presentations, and other similar means.

Because of the disruption and chaos that is often present in many of their families, children find the stability and safety
of the weekly group a very positive part of their lives. Their enthusiasm about participating in the program may be a key
factor in the number of families that continue to participate beyond the completion of the men’s court-mandated time.
For children needing additional help, the program offers referrals to other community agencies and resources, as well as
tutoring and individual and parent-child counseling. In collaboration with academic researchers, youth participants are
currently conducting participatory action research to explore different aspects of violence of relevance to them, and have
been invited to present their findings at local, state, and national meetings.

Identifying itself as a social change agent rather than a service provider, Caminar Latino walks with each family and
individual in their personal and collective journey towards non-violence. Their hope is that the changes that take place
during the intervention will be the first steps in breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence and thus serve to begin the task of true social transformation.

For more information visit www.caminarlatino.org.