By Jerry Casarez
For more than 35 years, the East Los Angeles Women’s center has provided a safe haven within the community for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Not only have they created a safe environment where a victim can get the proper counseling to help start the healing process, but they have also become a place where educational tools and training are provided to help promote awareness.
The origins of the center began with the idea of creating a hotline that would provide counseling and support to victims who felt they had nowhere to go or anyone to talk to within the community. The hotline was originally a Spanish speaking hotline, the brainchild of Irene Mendez-Banales and Connie Destito who wanted to provide independent counseling.
Through the years it grew into the center it is today with a full staff of counselors and support specialists who not only assist victims of sexual assault and domestic violence but provide trainings to educate and create awareness.
While the center is open Monday through Friday during business hours, the hotline is available 24 hours a day. Among the staff that works at the center is Sonia Rivera who serves as the Director of Sexual Assault and Emergency Services. “It’s important that we get that number out there so people know they have a place to call. Our job on that hotline is to try and get them some help,” said Rivera.
The center is also actively involved at East Los Angeles College, working closely with various faculty members to spread awareness and provide training to students of both genders. In April the staff was involved in the “Take back the night” event, which provided an outlet to anyone who wanted to share their experience with violence and find support. “The biggest message we want to share with our survivors at these events is that they’re not alone and it’s not their fault,” said Rivera.
The use of these events is also a good way of friends and family of victims learning to cope with the crisis. According to Rivera, many of the times the reaction from friends and family can come off as a scolding, which puts blame on the victim instead of providing support and comfort. “Especially in our culture, it becomes I told you not to go out, not to dress like that. “So all that victim blaming is the biggest thing we try to deal with. It becomes the most difficult thing for the victim to deal with,” said Rivera.
The center and staff is also open to men who may feel they don’t have anyone to talk to about their situation. “We make sure to let them know that when they share their information it’s confidential because it’s really a powerful experience,” said Rivera. The ELAWC also has an office on campus for students to come and get information on the various services provided or talk to someone if needed.
The center is located in the G8 building. For more information students can visit the center on campus or go to the website www.elawc.org . The 24 hour hotline number is 800-585-6231.