Latinx organizations forge alliance in support of sexual violence survivors

Story and photo by JASMINE BARLOW

 Comunidades Unidades/ Communities United (CU), a Latinx empowerment organization, and the Salt Lake City-based Rape Recovery Center (RRC) have forged a community partnership to heal survivors of sexual violence.

Established in 2016, the partnership is dedicated to providing comprehensive education, community resources, and professional services to support and empower survivors, particularly of Latinx identity. Weekly meetings, specialized trainings, policy negotiations, and coalition building are essential for long-term development and impact.

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Art installation project at Rape Recovery Center at 2035 1300 East in Salt Lake City.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 50% of Latina women will experience an episode of sexual violence in their lifetimes. Nearly 20% of Salt Lake County residents are Latinx. Staggering statistics, an emergence of Utah’s “minority-majority” demographic, and a tumultuous political climate, particularly immigration rhetoric and policy, are primary motivators for the partnership’s formation.

Stephany Murgia, director of education and outreach at RRC, is hopeful for the future of the partnership, while acknowledging advocacy and healing of Latinx survivors poses a myriad of challenges. “Sexual violence is a huge issue for all communities, more specifically in vulnerable communities,” Murgia says. “The most pressing issue [being] that Latinx survivors are underreporting at higher rates than any other group.”

Murgia says she believes the hesitation of reporting stems from a paralyzing fear of authoritarian backlash and possible deportation, as many victims are undocumented. “If you are undocumented choosing to report to the police or get state funding for victim reparations, police are not supposed to ask about [immigration] status. However, this isn’t always the case,” Murgia explains. “When people see [RRC’s] name, they think we are affiliated with law enforcement.” RRC honors and abides by confidentiality, and wants this precedent to be potential clients. “We will never turn them over to authorities or violate their trust,” she says.

Mayra Cedano, Department of Justice representative and Comunidades Unidades community engagement manager, provides immigration services and advocacy, and is deeply invested in the partnership’s success. Serving as a liaison to local government organizations and councils, Cedano is continually pushing for workplace rights and dignity, particularly Latinx and immigrant women facing workplace harassment. She recognizes limited language options in the community and limited availability of interpreters may de-incentivize survivors to seek help. “What is that telling [people of color] and other groups? What message are we sending to [Salt Lake City]?” Cedano wonders.

Daunting as these challenges may be, Murgia and Cedano are looking forward with optimistic vigor. Murgia reports: “We have seen significant growth in outreach, with Latinx backgrounds making up 30% of clientele.”

To mitigate the language gap, RRC is launching a Spanish speaking-only training for volunteers. Meetings are held on a weekly basis at the Mexican Consulate, allowing opportunities for networking, workshops, and connecting with community resources. Getting involved with No Mas, a domestic violence prevention campaign can also be helpful.

Overall, Murgia and Cedano both urge for a call to action, an essential ingredient for solidarity and effective peace building.