CLEVELAND, Ohio - Today, Maritza Gomez is happy, independent and safe. However, a few years ago, she was caught up in a violent and abusive relationship.
"Physical abuse, there were three or four times, but mentally, there was a lot of emotional and mental abuse," Gomez said.
Gomez had moved from Mexico, didn't speak English, and had nowhere to turn.
That's when she found the Latina Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Latina women who experience domestic violence.
"There is always something that we can do to help them," said Vanessa Rivera, Latina Project Coordinator.
Research shows Hispanic women are half as likely to report abuse as victims of other races. One study found fewer than three in 10 immigrants knew about domestic violence laws.
"They are not aware of the services that are available for them," Rivera explained.
Immigrant victims worry about being deported, however, many U.S. laws protect battered women and offer them ways to secure green cards. Language is another barrier that keeps Latina women from seeking help.
The Latina Project offers bilingual services. They provide shelter, support groups, advocacy, escorts to police departments, courtrooms, and hospitals, and immigration education. All of it is free of charge.
"To be able to help these women become free of abuse, I think is the most wonderful experience that I've had," Rivera said.
Today, Gomez owns her own business and says she will never let abuse play a role in her life again.
"It won't happen again, I will say no," Gomez said. "If they like it or don't like it, I don't care!"
The Latina Project serves more than 230 women per year. They are based in Cleveland, Ohio and have been operating since 2006. The program also partners with churches and hospitals to recruit women, so they can get help without their abusive partner knowing.
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