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Sylvia Gonzalez


Sylvia Gonzalez is a Spanish-speaking crisis intervention counselor at Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW). We caught up with her for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is October. Women who need CAAW’s help can go to their office at 1735 Vassar St. Their hotline is at 329-4150 or visit caaw.org.

What services does CAAW offer to abused women?

CAAW offers shelter, clothing assistance, food, transportation, support groups—in both English and Spanish—assistance in obtaining a restraining order. We also provide legal referrals, transitional housing, and our 24-hour, 7-day-a-week hotline

Are there always Spanish speakers available on the hotline?

Yes, there are five of us.

Why might it be harder for Latina women to report abuse?

The economy—they solely depend on the husband, and it’s harder for them to leave if they’ve never worked or they’re not legal in the country. There’s a program called VAWA [Violence Against Women Act], it’s a program for domestic violence where, if they’ve made a police report and the batterer has been arrested and convicted, these victims can apply to immigration in order for them to remain in the United States legally.

That’s so they won’t be afraid to report?

Not only that, but for them to not be afraid to leave the relationship. Before, if there’s a petition before them to remain in the states, the batterer will say, “If you leave, I’ll call immigration.” Now, they can leave, get their restraining order and petition for legal documents.

So if you’re a battered woman, you can petition to be here legally?

You have to have a lot of proof to get these documents. You have to have police reports, medical statements, a restraining order, documentation from friends and family, pictures of the abuse. It is a long process, and that’s why we refer them to Washoe Legal Services, where they have attorneys who deal with this and tell you what documents you need. It can take one to three years. The government only issued 10,000 of these petitions per year in the United States. It’s not a lot.

So this is no easy path to citizenship.


What other cultural factors come into play?

We’re coming from Mexico to the United States; we have no family here. Where are we going to turn to? Who do we go to for help? That’s one reason we stay in abusive relationships. And the other is our religious beliefs, that once we marry we have to stay with our husbands, which isn’t true. And with our batterer, we’re being threatened by them, that they’ll go back to our country and hurt our mothers, our fathers, our children. So we stay.

Nevada ranks higher than other states for women killed by men. What should Nevada do differently?

I think the thing we should do is more prevention, more awareness that domestic violence is a big factor in Nevada. … Getting our community involved—if you see someone being abused, don’t be afraid to call the police. A lot of time we keep quiet because we don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to get caught in that. We need to call the police and get restraining orders, because if you don’t say anything, you could be the next victim.

Anything you’d like to add?

We do accept donations. We are very low on clothing for victims. All of our services are free. You don’t need any legal documents to receive help. We will not ask you if you’re legal in this country or not.