Outreach to women farmworkers in the Brockport and Orleans County areas will be part of efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence during October, which is dedicated to the issue.
A task force in Orleans County has been working for several years on raising domestic-violence awareness and educating the general public about services available to women in crisis, said Cheryl Gee, a domestic-violence educator and outreach worker for Farmworker Legal Services of New York.
Gee and Alina Díaz, also an outreach worker with FLSNY, said they joined the task force this year to ensure that the information about bilingual services and agencies available also was directed to farmworkers.
"Farmworker women look at their lives as very isolated, as invisible," Gee said. "They have no voice."
Having farmworker women give testimony during some domestic-violence awareness events the task force is involved in during October could have a significant impact on the lives of other women facing the same struggles, Gee said. It also educates the rest of the community about the farmworkers’ struggles, she added. The women also will write letters about their experiences that the task force will send to local media for publication, she added.
"We want to bring home the fact that these women are in our back yard," Gee said of women facing domestic violence.
State lawmakers also addressed the of issue domestic violence last month when Gov. David Paterson signed legislation that expands protections for women by holding abusers more accountable for their actions and improving the court’s response to affected families.
"Stopping domestic violence should be a national priority, and I am encouraged that New York is leading the way in giving law enforcement and the courts the tools they need to end abuse," Gov. Paterson stated in a press release. "I am proud to sign legislation designed to provide a strong response to domestic violence and to protect those that have suffered from abuse."
According to statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, www.ncadv.org, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and 1.3 million women will be victims of physical assault. Most cases are never reported to police, according to the Web site.
"Women don’t want to disclose (the abuse)," said Sue Barnes, fund development coordinator at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. "They think it should be kept in the family, and they don’t want to talk about it."
Given its focus on the inner city, Catholic Family Center’s Project Keep Safe — a three-year collaboration with Alternatives for Battered Women that is now in its second year — does not often deal with the unique challenges faced by farmworkers, noted Carey Travis, the project’s case manager who worked in the family-court and domestic-violence intervention court for more than two decades.
"It’s a great idea," she said of the Orleans County initiative. "They (farmworkers) may have different experiences and we may not be aware of them."
Project Keep Safe staff work diligently to help women feel comfortable talking about the domestic-violence situations they face because women are often reluctant to seek help — whether they live in the city or on a farm, Barnes said. The project has helped 230 women who have sought help at Catholic Family Center’s Sanctuary House or The Women’s Place, both of which are secure locations, she added.
Travis noted that Catholic Family Center is already working on renewing the collaboration with Alternatives for Battered Women, which offers counseling services as well as legal assistance to the women that come to Sanctuary House or The Women’s Place. And providing those services bilingually expands the staff’s ability to offer a comfort level to more women to talk about their situations, she said.
"People have to say they want to work with us," Travis remarked. "It’s based on an empowerment model and gives women choices."
EDITOR’S NOTE: Women in crisis may call the Alternatives for Battered Women hotline anytime at 585-232-7353 or the Orleans County Department of Social Services at 1-866-314-7233. Staff from the domestic-violence project at Farmworker Legal Services of New York will make a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Lake Ontario Agri-Business Childcare Development Head Start Program, and farmworkers will take part in the State University of New York at Brockport’s "Take Back the Night" event on Oct. 29. For more information, call 585-325-3050.
This story was updated on Oct. 8, 2009.