Thursday, October 29, 2015

Diversity in Police Force Can Aid Domestic Abuse Survivors

Interview with YWCA Bilingual Advocacy Specialist Beatriz Velasquez

We are nearing the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but our advocacy and support for survivors of domestic abuse is a year-round endeavor. At YWCA we recognize that each survivor’s story and experiences are unique, and we strive to highlight how issues like racism, heterosexism, and language barriers complicate the experience of domestic violence survivors seeking help.

 One issue that can factor into a survivor’s decision to reach out for help is whether or not they feel safe going to the police. The higher incidences of police brutality towards people of color has been at the forefront of our national discourse in particular this year, and it is one of the contributing factors towards the general mistrust of police officers by minority communities.

 One woman working with the Vancouver Police Department to improve diversity training in our own community is YWCA Clark County Bilingual Advocacy Specialist, Beatriz Velasquez. Beatriz has worked for YWCA for almost five years. In order to highlight the particular struggles faced by domestic abuse survivors in the Latino/Hispanic community, she advocates for them as a member of the Vancouver Police Department Chief’s Diversity Advisory Team (CDAT). The CDAT holds a monthly meeting where community members representing various local minority groups can share their thoughts and concerns with selected police officers, members of the Vancouver Fire Department, and representatives from the City of Vancouver’s human resources department.
Beatriz Velasquez

 Beatriz has personal experience in dealing with domestic abuse, and knows firsthand how hesitant many members of the Latino/Hispanic community are to reach out to the police. In some instances the distrust is encouraged by the abuser, telling their victims that if they call the police they will end up deported or in jail. In an interview with The Columbian earlier this year, Beatriz noted that “In my community, I can say 70 percent are afraid to make a (911) call. They worry about what will happen when an officer shows up.”

 Beatriz notes that in addition to the fear many in the Latino/Hispanic community feel towards the police, language barriers can also act as a significant roadblock in seeking help. This is an issue Beatriz has raised in her CDAT meetings, and feels positively that the Vancouver Police Department is taking her concerns seriously.

 “They are very aware of how important diversity is in the department,” she says, “ They are very open to listening to the concerns of the community, and listen very carefully when I voice my concerns. It has been a pleasure to work with them, and to see them as people who love their job, and their community.”

 This sort of unity, at the end of the day, is precisely why Beatriz continues to do the work she does, and why she is positive about the impact of the CDAT and other similar efforts in the future. “I believe that we can all be part of the solution through communication, understanding, and love for one another. We all may look different, but our intentions are the same: To make this world a better place for our loved ones.”

 Click here to read The Columbian’s full profile of the CDAT, and here for more information on domestic violence and YWCA’s SafeChoice Program.

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