UNIDOS Advocates For The Latinx Community
By Amy Pflugshaupt NBC 15 News Anchor | Photographed By Valerie Tobias
Domestic violence is a pervasive problem. In the Latino community, approximately 1 in 3 of Hispanic/Latina women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Latin@ Network.
“That number of 1 in 3 is very real and it does happen in Wisconsin,” says Veronica Figueroa-Velez, the executive director of UNIDOS. “We’re always busy.”
UNIDOS was started in 1996 to help Latinx survivors of domestic violence access local services. Research done between 1994 and 1996 of migrant worker communities in central Wisconsin found that domestic violence was a serious problem in this community; however, local services weren’t equipped to work with this group of victims due to language barriers and a lack of understanding about why people were keeping silent. Today, UNIDOS fills that gap.
“Oftentimes our victims won’t call because ‘If I call the police I might also get deported and I’m going to end up dead in my country because he or she is going to kill me,” explained Figueroa-Velez.
UNIDOS is located in Fitchburg but serves Latino communities all across the state. If people can’t come to the office, the group will send representatives to where they are needed most. It’s not a shelter, but it provides victim advocacy, including immigration remedies information, restraining order assistance and legal information.
“When we come in contact with a victim, we become their community advocate, connecting that person with services and ensuring that person doesn’t get lost in the system,” says Figueroa-Velez. “Sometimes we have to find safe housing, shelter, hotel vouchers, immigration attorneys, food, gas cards— you name it, we have to find it.”
In January 2017, UNIDOS launched a 24-hour help line. Before that, Figueroa–Velez says the call volume to UNIDOS was very low, averaging about 300-350 calls per year. In 2017, that jumped to 700 calls. And so far for 2018, as of April UNIDOS has already surpassed that number.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of violence, Figueroa–Velez says it’s important not to be afraid to speak up. She wants victims to know that domestic violence doesn’t always end in a separation or with police contact. She says there are many things UNIDOS can do to address violence in the home.
Figueroa–Velez urges people to dial 911 if they see, hear or suspect someone is in immediate danger.
To contact UNIDOS of Wisconsin, call the 24/7 Help Line at (800) 510-9195. For more information, visit unidoswi.org.