The main focus of our program is providing classes on the connection between HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. The population with the highest increase in HIV/AIDS infection is heterosexual women. Violence against women is one of the largest contributors to this recent trend in infection. On a global scale women face abuse in the form of sexual violence, including rape, which is often a woman’s first sexual experience. Locally, violence against women is shaped by two unique factors: immigration status and machismo prevalent in, but not exclusive to, Hispanic culture. These two factors increase the vulnerability of women as they are more easily manipulated due to their illegal status and dominated through use of stereotypical gender roles dictating the submissiveness of females. Immigrant women in an abusive relationship are often threatened that if they speak out against their partner they will be deported. In addition, machismo dictates that women submit to their partner, including meeting the sexual needs of their spouse regardless of their wants and needs. For example, in many of the Latin American countries from which these families derive, marital rape is not considered a crime. Therefore, the principal aspect of domestic violence that we focus on is HIV/AIDS as a consequence of sexual assault suffered by immigrant women in an abusive relationship. Our program takes into account that many spouses of immigrant women in the local community are agricultural workers, who are statistically proven to express confusion about the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexual transmitted diseases. In the past our program educated these farm workers about condom use (many of whom had never seen one before) and other ways to engage in safe sex. However, this outreach effort was exclusive to HIV/AIDS education and did not take into account the aspect of domestic violence. Once the connection was made, our organization realized that we must give women the power to negotiate condom use if in an abusive relationship by showing them how to use the female condom, rather than merely providing male condoms to spouses who are often unwilling to use them.
We directly assist immigrant women in low-income “housing authorities.” Our program pushes that HIV/AIDS is another form of violence suffered by women in an abusive relationship. Therefore, by educating immigrant women on issues of domestic violence and all its forms, including rape, and how to negotiate condom use by showing them how to use the female condom and distributing it to them free of charge, our program helps prevent the violence of HIV/AIDS. In addition, we provide legal orientation, including how to apply for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), orientation with local authorities who explain the resources available to them as women suffering violence, regardless of legal status, and provide on-site rapid HIV/AIDS tests for the women at the end of the program.
But ending domestic violence can only be accomplished by targeting all levels of the community. Therefore, we also enter elementary, high schools, universities and churches in order to provide a comprehensive network of support in the struggle to end violence against women. We realize that violence is a cycle and that local youth growing up in violent homes are more susceptible to both suffering and executing violence. Given the cycles of violence, educating immigrant women is not enough. We enter elementary schools in order to teach classes about gender equality as a means to prevent violence in the home. High schools are also entered and we give classes on teen dating violence related to domestic violence and how to exit an abusive relationship as an adolescent. We refer youth who come forward with their past abuse to therapy sessions. Realizing the importance of following through on our outreach and referring those in need to therapy, Las Americas not only educates youth about domestic violence issues but helps victims or former victims of violence in an effort to heal wounds and prevent future violence.