In the Community

Latinos en Virginia Provides Spanish-Language Support

Far from home, far from family and friends, Spanish-speaking victims of domestic and sexual violence often struggled to find help.

The language barrier presented a hurdle, as did their isolation from support networks and fear of police and government agencies.

“People prefer to stay in abusive relationships and be raped and beaten every day because they feel that is safer than to ask for help,” said Elvira de La Cruz.

But she wants those women and children to know – there is a better way. The Latinos En Virginia Empowerment Center is the first agency in the state to provide around the clock access to bilingual and bicultural trained advocates for families affected by violence. Latinos en Virginia has recently relocated to a new, more spacious office in Chesapeake.

A 2022 grant and continued support from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation’s Sue Cook Winfrey Fund allowed the LIVE Center to expand its services. The Sue Cook Winfrey Fund was established in 1997 to support people who have experienced abuse.

De La Cruz is the CEO of LIVE. In 2023, she said, the Latinos En Virginia hotline received more than 280 calls, 90 percent of whom identified as people with limited English proficiency. Employees connect callers to services with nearly 60 programs and provide support and translation assistance as victims seek help from hospitals and the courts.

In addition to supporting the new Chesapeake location, the Foundation funding has allowed Latinos en Virginia to provide mental health services with a bilingual and a bicultural counselor, a part-time hotline victim advocate and interpretation services along with other supports.

In April, Latinos en Virginia hosted a community resource fair and food giveaway at Norfolk’s East Ocean View Community and Senior Center. Cheerful music greeted people as they entered the room, and members of Latinos en Virginia danced in the middle of the gym.

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia provided boxes filled with vegetables, fruit, protein, oil, and rice. Representatives from Bon Secours offered free primary care physician services. Community resources included the Virginia Beach Public Library, the Norfolk Law Library, the Norfolk Department of Public Health, La Casa de la Salud, and the state Office of the Attorney General.

Karla Ramirez brought her 7-year-old daughter, Jimena, to the event to try to find medical insurance and health services. Ramirez said they are from El Salvador and have been in the United States only a short time. “We don’t know people, so we wanted to meet people and find resources,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “We also want to find classes to learn English.”

In interviews with people who sought help from Latinos en Virginia, domestic violence victims from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico talked about crucial, life-changing support from the group’s advocates as they navigated courts and medical services. Advocates were able to provide food, shelter, transportation, and mental health services.

Latinos en Virginia provided a transcript of the interviews in English with names removed to protect the identities of abuse victims. The women described fleeing from relationships in which their spouses had separated them from family members. Some said they were beaten while pregnant or in front of their children.

“This institution is helping me to empower myself to be stronger to get out of this situation, to feel accompanied and know that I am not alone,” one woman said. “I feel very grateful that there are institutions like this place that can help us look for that light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Latinos en Virginia will host a resource fair and food distribution event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on August 24 at its new office, 3808 Poplar Hill Road, Chesapeake.

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