Home Local News As executive director of UNIDOS, Virginia Gittens Escudero helps Latinx survivors of...

As executive director of UNIDOS, Virginia Gittens Escudero helps Latinx survivors of domestic violence access local services


Organizations that provide support and services around domestic and sexual abuse are vitally important for those undergoing violent and often isolating experiences at the hands of family or people close to them. Virginia Gittens Escudero is no stranger to working closely with those in need of support, and her experience has led her to undertake the executive director position at UNIDOS, an organization committed to being a resource for those in the Latinx community undergoing experiences of domestic or sexual abuse. 

Escudero herself spent the beginning of her work experience in Panama City within the legal field, often dealing with cases that involved domestic violence, child abuse, and other areas that gave insight into the experiences of people going through these incidents. After finishing law school, along with her first-hand work experience, Escudero came to Madison and eventually found herself at Madison College as the next step to continuing her career.      

“When I finished my education at Madison College with the Human Services Program, a very good friend of mine and my instructor at that time said, ‘Hey, I found the perfect job for you. It combines both your degrees in law and human services, and guess what, it’s in Spanish,’” recalled Escudero. “At that time, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, DAIS, was looking for a bilingual legal advocate. I applied for the position and I was hired. I worked there for approximately eight years supporting victims of domestic violence, and mostly helping them navigate the legal system. From there, that’s when the opportunity came to be executive director at UNIDOS, and to bring some of that knowledge and experience. There are so many things that are new for me here, but it’s really great to have that background.”

Escudero’s vast experience with those affected by domestic and sexual abuse has given her the tools to work closely with them while also having knowledge of legal and health systems that are often hard to navigate for victims of abuse. While domestic and sexual abuse can often stem from past experiences of abuse or be repeated in generational cycles, Escudero spoke to how prevention is the key in fighting those outcomes.   

“We have a responsibility as an organization, and as individuals working in this organization for prevention. We don’t do anything to help by just putting a Band-Aid on someone who is in a crisis,” Escudero assured while reflecting on the cycle of abuse. 

“It is also preventable because we know many community members who have come from a household where they have seen violence, and then they turn it all the way around. They’re doing a really good job in the community or with their families, so it is possible, and it’s preventable. So how, as an organization, can we best support our community in general? Not only victims or survivors. As a community, we also have that role, even if you’re not working in the organization, even if you’re not working in the field of domestic violence.”

Cultural pressures and societal pressures at large can play a part in the silence of victims, especially if those who are being victimized feel there are no resources or people to help who understand their experience. Escudero also expressed how an aspect of prevention is recognizing the impact that abuse can have on the entire community, and how it can often stem from pressures the community feels internally and externally. UNIDOS focuses on helping those undergoing abuse in the Latino community underscoring how important it is to acknowledge the individual and unique nature of each incident. 

“There are very unique barriers that immigrant victims of abuse face, and that Latino and Hispanic immigrants of abuse face,” said Escudero. “I also don’t want to fall into the mistake of generalizing things as I don’t want to generalize what the Latino community is. The Latino community is so diverse in the values and the beliefs that we all have, and that also means we cannot say what all communities in Latin America are like. I think it is time to get away from that concept.”

Escudero acknowledged the tendency for language to be a factor people often use to group people together, along with grouping together their experiences and cultures. By approaching people through their individual experiences, UNIDOS, which was started in 1996 as a group of volunteers committed to helping Latinx survivors of domestic violence access local services, offers a way to approach that complexity while also working around issues such as immigration and access to resources. Escudero made a point to assure those looking for help, or simply a listening ear, could be sure that they would not be pressured into saying or doing anything they do not want to.

“I have a lot of respect for survivors for reaching out for help,” Escudero said. “It’s something that requires a lot of strength. Especially when you don’t believe that that’s happening to you. We have individuals calling the line just to talk about what domestic violence looks like or sexual violence. I think that’s something very important, that we are here as a trustable agency where people can say, ‘I can call there and my information will be kept confidential. It’s not going to be shared with anyone, and I can talk about this freely, and nobody’s judging me.’ That’s also important.”

The first step for many undergoing domestic or sexual abuse can simply be sharing the experience with someone in safety and trust. Escudero is sure that UNIDOS can provide that, and even go a step further to work closely with the community in getting at the root of domestic and sexual violence. Working with the community in efforts to heal and raise awareness is just the beginning, and Escudero is sure that with growth and resources, they can consistently provide and improve their services and support. 

“The role of the executive director comes with a package full of responsibilities,” said Escudero. “Making sure that organization is in the community for many years to come, that it’s sustainable and we can be here, that our staff is healthy in their well being, and that we’re stronger for our community. It comes with a lot of responsibilities.

“Another thing is the challenges, too. We’re a small organization and we’re growing, but as we’re growing, we have more needs. We have to wear many hats at once. Ultimately I’m very grateful to be here, and it’s very helpful to be able to continue with my passion and what I like to do, now in a position where I can do more.”


To learn more about UNIDOS and support the organization, visit their website here