When the ESPYS took place this year, ESPN flew 141 athletes who survived the sexual abuse of Larry Nassar to Los Angeles. This group of survivors was presented with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. And they were not alone. Along with them, a small LA-based organization was there for support: Peace Over Violence.
Peace Over Violence is a dual rape crisis and domestic violence center based in Los Angeles that has anchored itself in the middle of a social movement to bring peace over violence. More than a resource center, it is a space for healing.
The team from POV was available to the survivors through every event to provide support. For example, several advocates attended the ESPYS, including Melissa Morales, Britni Soto, April Hernandez, Laureen O’Hara, and Zoe Muñoz.
“The experience was overwhelming, powerful, tearful, emotional, stressful, and I was grateful that our team was here in Los Angeles to be of support to this specific group of survivors on this point in their collective journey,” Muñoz told Latino Rebels. “As rape crisis advocates, it is only a very very tiny percentage of on the ground cases we respond to that result in some semblance of justice, consequence, or even basic acknowledgment and recognition that harm was done and abuse was perpetrated. For a case of this size, with this many women/survivors, to be broadcast on a national program like the ESPYS, in front of the nation and the world of athletics, was historic.”
POV operates in the West San Gabriel Valley, providing a way out to women and men who experience the traumas of domestic abuse and rape. The small team consists of six (mostly Latina) women, and a number of volunteers who function as advocates, counselors, and first responders.
A regular day for one of these women entails responding to crisis calls in the middle of the night, answering hotline calls and supporting survivors through the process of healing. The work they do is intense: like rolling out at 3am to help women escape violent homes, attending court proceedings or providing an outlet to talk to.
POV works with the goal to change aspects of the culture that enable this violence with preventive methods, and hopes that there will be a day when this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again. Their work is especially empowering and effective because many of these women were once victims themselves, and are survivors today.
“Our lives depend on it. We have to defend ourselves. We have to educate ourselves and help each other because our lives depend on it, quite literally,” said Muñoz, who is also a survivor.
When she was 14 years old, a man attempted to abduct Muñoz and pull her into his car after following her home from school. “I knew that this is how girls end up dead, this is how girls end up raped and murdered. As a little girl you grow up being told this is how girls end up dead, end up raped and murdered” Munoz said.
From before she was 14 years old, Muñoz knew that as a woman she was subject to gender-based violence. Since then, she has faced it regularly. From habitually being harassed on the streets by men to being groped and almost kidnapped as a young girl, Muñoz sees firsthand how society has permitted this culture to persist. The experiences she’s had as a result of machismo, and the stories of the women she works with and assists every day, are what drive her to work at POV.
As Latinas, Yvette Lozano, Chief Program Officer at POV and Ana Santamaría, another long-lasting advocate at the organization, have been victims of trauma outside the United States.
For Lozano, her relationship with domestic violence and rape began when she was seven years old and had to watch her mother endure abuse from her husband. Living through that was a hardship, and Lozano too fell a victim to domestic violence when she married young and was abused. Seeing the violence continue between two generations fueled her take steps to address it.
Santamaría has survived domestic abuse as well, and like Lozano, has observed how aspects of culture enable the violence to persist. Originally from Central America, she migrated to the U.S. in hopes to escape war, and gender-based violence.
Deep-seated machismo played a big role in Santamaría’s domestic abuse. For 19 years, she tried to leave her husband on multiple occasions. But she couldn’t. She would go to her mother for help, but “like a Latina mom she said no, you have to go back with him, the father of your kids,” Santamaría said.
Healing for Santamaría began when she decided she would no longer let her children be witnesses to domestic violence. Not wanting to have her children experience the abuse, she picked up and left, putting an end to her abuse in its tracks.
Like Muñoz and Lozano, Santamaría has had a long healing process. Trauma resulting from domestic violence or rape is not something one gets over easily. It is a never-ending process. The women at Peace Over Violence have dedicated themselves to helping survivors find their voice and take the beginning steps towards healing.
Shayla Colon was a summer intern at the Futuro Media Group and currently attends Quinnipiac University. In 2019, she will have her bachelor’s in Journalism and English with a minor in International Business, accompanied by her MBA in Interactive Media.