Today, UNIDOS will hold a fundraiser as part of The Big Share in conjunction with Community Shares of Wisconsin. It is the second year in a row UNIDOS is seeking funds to help expand a bilingual hotline that has served nearly 800 people in and outside of Dane County.

UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence, founded in Madison in 1996, is a statewide organization whose mission is to provide a bridge to a safe environment through needs assessment, direct support, referral, education, training and collaboration to break the cycle of domestic violence in Latino communities. The hotline is the only one of its kind in Wisconsin because it is in both Spanish and English. Domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault are all issues UNIDOS provides support for.

Domestic violence has long been a difficult issue to provide support for in Latinx communities because of unique circumstances many in the Latino community live under.

“The issue is the resources aren’t there,” said UNIDOS Executive Director Veronica Figueroa. “For example, if someone is undocumented they will have a harder time getting resources. From housing, to assistance, to other things, it is hard for domestic violence victims who are undocumented.”

Under reporting is an issue across all communities when it comes to domestic violence, in particular. Figueroa says that UNIDOS will do everything in its power to protect undocumented citizens and that people experiencing domestic violence can reach out to UNIDOS regardless of their citizenship status and trust that they will receive care and help.

“People don’t want to get flagged. With the political climate now under President Trump people are afraid to even apply for the kinds of visas we were able to offer victims in the past,” Figueroa said. “So it has really put a lot of stress on us to protect victims. We need to convince people to apply for these remedies and get support and make sure we look out for the unintended consequences. Immigration has a lot to do with reporting because perpetrators can use that against victims, saying they’re going to get deported or something for reporting.”

The hotline is the brainchild of a leadership team UNIDOS utilizes comprised of survivors of domestic violence, trafficking or sexual assault among other things. The group of survivors meets regularly to focus on how UNIDOS can expand services statewide. The bulk of UNIDOS’ work is in Dane County currently and Figueroa says she would like to see them able to expand by the end of the year.

“We want to provide services statewide for Wisconsin,” she said. “But it is a process we’re evaluating right now. I hope by the middle of next year we have a nice evaluation on the hotline and we can talk to our funders about expanding statewide.”

Lorena Guimaraens (left) and Tania Hernandez work the La Red 24/7 hotline.

Often it is not only the victims themselves who utilize the hotline. Schools and police departments across Dane County call and provide tips or reports about potential victims or refer people for services.

“Most calls are for domestic violence,” Figueroa says. “But we also get a lot of friends or family of victims asking for support. Sometimes it is a police department asking for support for a victim. And sometimes it is a young victim calling from school asking for support.”

UNIDOS serves everyone from youths to adults. Schools give referrals for kids and parents alike.

“Sometimes a social worker at school finds out things are happening at home and they contact us. And sometimes they work through the family and we come to the school. UNIDOS has a program at Memorial, East and Marshall High Schools where we go and provide services.”

The fundraising event for UNIDOS will run from this morning through 11:45 pm tonight. Every dollar Unidos earns will be used to expand the domestic violence hotline so that UNIDOS can make it a statewide entity.

“This year is very important because we’re getting a crisis line in Spanish in Dane County,” Figueroa said. “In 2017 our number of calls increased. We had 768 calls from Dane County and others from outside the county. Domestic violence isn’t a relationship issue, it is a criminal offense. It’s not a family matter that shouldn’t leave the home. It is a crime and it isn’t acceptable. We take that seriously when it comes to changing that dynamic. I hope by January our services expand further than Dane County. The need is definitely there.”

Written by Nicholas Garton

Nicholas Garton

Nicholas Garton is a Madison365 graduate and a reporter for Madison365.