Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Meet Irma Magana

By Emily Ostrowski

Irma Magana has served YWCA Clark County as a bilingual advocate for the Sexual Assault Program for the past seven years, and has an undeniable enthusiasm for the work she does. “Everything I do I enjoy, even if sometimes it’s a little scary,” she says.

As a bilingual advocate, Irma works with Spanish speaking victims and survivors of sexual and
Irma Magana
domestic abuse. She’s there at every stage of the process, from helping them seek medical attention and offering emotional support to navigating the legal system throughout a case if they go to trial. Irma also works to help women obtain a U Visa, which gives victims of certain crimes, like sexual assault, temporary legal status and work eligibility for up to four years. Recently, Irma spoke at the 10th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference, hosted by the OHSU Global Health Center Student Interest Group, about how the medical community can better serve victims and survivors of sexual assault.

Another of Irma’s responsibilities is co-facilitator of the Latina Support Group with Beatriz Velasquez, bilingual advocate in the SafeChoice Program. The group, which started over 10 years ago, meets every Thursday from 12 to 2pm, is free and provides childcare. Initially, there were just one or two people meeting in an office, but the group has since grown and now Irma estimates that roughly 15-20 women attend each week. Irma notes that Latina women are often more hesitant to report abuse, and can isolate themselves from seeking out help, which is part of the reason she sees this support group as so important.

“The more we talk about these issues, the more we let them know that this is a safe place, where they can talk in their own language, and see that we are very competent in understanding their struggles, the less isolated they become.” She continues, “Families get broken by domestic and sexual abuse. Victims lose their family, their friends, their income. Everything falls apart, and they need someone to talk to, someone who is going to be supportive, to help them come back into their normal lives.”

Irma is incredibly proud of the work she’s done in the group and the lives she’s affected. One story in particular stays with her as a reminder of all the good the group can provide. Three years ago a mother and daughter from Guatemala came to YWCA for help dealing with both sexual and domestic abuse within their family. The family was torn apart, but they kept coming to meetings. The case eventually went to trial and the assailant was put in jail for 16 years. The daughter continued her education, and is now studying to become a nurse. The mother continues to attend group, and has now gained her work permit and is on the path to citizenship. Both still keep in regular contact with Irma, even though the case has closed, and she sees these relationships as her job’s greatest reward.

“That for me is the pay. I love seeing those families who know and appreciate everything that we’re doing for them. It makes me feel really good about the work I do.”

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