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Casa Fortaleza helps Spanish-speaking survivors of sexual assault overcome barriers to getting help


April marks sexual assault and awareness month and the way some communities access help and services can vary because of barriers. Casa Fortaleza, a local non-profit, aims to break down those barriers and bring awareness to sexual assault in spanish speaking communities.

MARIAN MENDEZ-CERA: Casa Fortaleza truly understands the unique needs, barriers, and the impact of the intersectionalities of our clients identities, whom are the majority Spanish speakers.

And so I think it is super important to have a space in which community are able to come to a space that is not mainstream that has culture specific ways of talking about prevention, cultural specific ways of looking at intervention. So, we're looking at how do we create a space for Spanish speaking community, that they are able not to only feel welcome, but that they're able to actually heal.

KUNM: I want to go back and focus on the identity aspect that you were just talking about. How does a person's identity impact the way they would reach out for help?

NANCY SPEARS: In our culture, we have like very strict ways of dealing with things. In like the Mexican culture that at least I come from, we don't talk about what happens at home, and a lot of mainstream organizations, they don't realize that because our culture is so important to us, we take that into consideration when we talk about anything. So, because one of the things, like sexual assault is a taboo in our culture. We don't talk about sexual assault, we don't mention it, it's just something that we kind of ignore.

KUNM: Sexual assault is already a difficult experience to navigate. And by adding culture to the equation, I would assume each case is unique. Can you explain more about the programs and practices you all implement? 

SPEARS: One of the programs that I'm like very proud of is our case management. Because we are culturally specific, we try to be with our clients every step of the way. And with our case managers, they are very hands-on in every single step of what the client is wanting. So, if they want to go to the doctor, and they need us to be there, our case managers are right there with them. If they are wanting us to go with them to the courthouse, and because they need also like help with that language, we are right there with them. So, when we are helping our clients, it's like we are helping our own family.

CERA: And I think to just really highlight what Nancy is mentioning, I think that when you're looking at, for example, our familia, our immigrant families are coming from every part of the world, and they arrive here in Albuquerque, navigating the systems of bureaucracy and everything out there. It's hard, especially in a language that you don't understand.

And so, I think that having that comadre, that type of fellow that understands what it looks like, and it's able to help you through all of the different spaces. And it's beyond just interpretation that what we're doing here, it's beyond just the linguistics. And so for us when we are providing services to our clients, it's about doing this holistic approach. To how does it look like for them to their healing path? And if they desire to do any medical examinations and legal work that they might need, the advocates are there every step of that way. And they're there for them to not only feel they are understanding what's happening, but also there's this levels of anxiety, right? I have to go to court, how does that look like? That creates anxiety even in me right? Of not knowing how to navigate certain systems.

And so, I think that is super cool that our advocates are there to be able to be their support and be able to not only explain what it means every step that they're taking, but able to provide the options for them too, as Nancy was saying they’re making the decisions of what feels right for them.

Casa Fortaleza will host its annual fundraiser this Saturday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners. 

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.