GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids organization is working to help domestic violence survivors within the Hispanic community by connecting them directly with law enforcement.
Puertas Abiertas, which translates to “open doors,” held its first questions and answers session tonight with local police allowing for women to learn how to navigate the legal system.
Members of law enforcement and the Kent county prosecutor all heard from women in vulnerable situations so both could learn how to bridge the gap between police and the Latina community.
“We are here to demystify so that immigrant victims of crime feel more comfortable reporting what happened to them,” said Catherine Villanueva, a Puertas Abiertas board member and immigration attorney with the YWCA.
Different barriers create issues for minority groups to connect with police.
“They don’t have a translator, or they take out the victim and leave the perpetrator at home because the abuser, could be a man or woman, they understand a little bit more English maybe, so they have that advantage,” said Andrea Inostroza, founder and CEO of Puertas Abiertas.
Minority communities often deal with mistrust of law enforcement. Puertas Abiertas fosters communication and a positive relationship between police and the Latina community.
“We had the police today and in the past, we had CPS (Children’s Protective Services). We want them to come and connect with the Latina community because we have our doors open like our name says for everybody. Come and learn, learn how to work with the Latino community,” said Inostroza.
Participants wrote down questions and received valuable information from law enforcement.
“Can she make a report?” someone asked.
“Yes, so the most important thing that you can do … once the report is made then we can start investigating,” said Kent County Undersheriff Chuck Dewitt.
Smaller groups allowed for a deeper connection with police to help women feel safer about coming forward for domestic violence assistance.
“The perpetrators are much more likely to reoffend because they have gotten away with it. and we don’t want people like that in our community who are not being held to justice,” said Villanueva.
The organization is aiming to give Latina women a voice, opening the door to a healthier life and community.
“It was a need … our organization to connect Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Wyoming, with the Latino community, Kent county in general. So, we are here to help,” said Inostroza.
Puertas Abiertas has helped over 500 clients since its opening four years ago. Just last year, they had more than 6,000 one-on-one sessions with the Latina community.