by Emily Stednick
Silvia* was referred to the Victim Service Collaborative after initial attempts to secure a restraining order from her abusive husband. Silvia was fearful to complete the police reports and paperwork due to her undocumented legal status and fear for the safety of her three children.
The Victim Service Collaborative was formed as part of a vision of peace through serving our brothers and sisters, like Silvia and her children, at vulnerable times. Beginning as a proposal of Reedley (Calif.) Chief of Police Steve Wright, the collaborative is a “one-stop shop” of special services for victims of violence. The Reedley Police Department’s Victim Service Unit moved into West Coast MCC offices, and the Marjaree Mason Center, a shelter-based domestic violence program, holds weekly counseling sessions there.
“Communities and churches asked for help in establishing these types of services in their areas, and the Victim Service Collaborative is a response to that call,” says West Coast MCC Executive Director Sheri Wiedenhoefer. This multi-agency partnership includes various other community and state services.
These partnerships allowed caseworkers to build relationships with Silvia, providing a safe environment to share about the significant levels of abuse she and her children had experienced for 12 years. She began a U visa process, which gives victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States.
Looking back, Silvia remembers the numb cave she had entered throughout the violence, “I no longer knew how dead I was becoming inside, I was going through the motions but I no longer had life.” At one point, Silvia remembers her fifteen-year-old daughter saying, “Mom, if we stay here, you’re going to die.” Silvia already felt dead inside. She looked at her children and decided that they needed a mother who was alive.
In addition to victim services, trainings are provided to work for peace in communities through Victim Offender Reconciliation Program and Neighborhood Watch. Most of the services West Coast MCC provides to immigrant families are humanitarian visas like U Visas, and Violence Against Women Act cases.
Silvia completed the U visa process in July 2010. She now lives independently with her children, holds a job at a local restaurant and has a driver’s license. Silvia’s physical and emotional freedom from abuse, legal immigrant status and financial security provides a sense of new beginning and opportunity. With strengthening self-esteem, new friends at work and her ability to attend church again with her children, she feels alive again.
Silvia’s story is one example of the value of partnership between multiple agencies. An individual can be indentified through one aspect of victim services but to help the entire family, the whole being must be addressed; their spiritual, emotional, physical, and psychological needs.
West Coast MCC Immigration Advocate Miriam Cardenas comments, “we are intentionally collaborative in how we work together to best meet the needs of these families. We try to eliminate the fear, and build the trust and security so they’re able to eventually gain freedom and life.”
*Name changed for confidentiality reasons.
Emily Stednick is Communications Coordinator for West Coast MCC.