The Harbor helps Latinas recover from trauma


By Sue Cody

The Harbor offers a safe place for anyone experiencing sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking. The agency focuses on education, prevention, support and advocacy while promoting self-determination.

In February, The Harbor began a Seeking Safety support group for Spanish-speaking women. Survivors of domestic violence – either past or present – are taught coping skills to heal from trauma.

Providing a support group in Spanish can be helpful to the healing process for Latinas, says Paula Bartheld, who co-facilitates the Latina support group with Gudelia Contreras. Participants can speak their own language in a safe environment and share and receive support around their experiences.

“Latinas who have grown up in a macho culture don’t even know about domestic violence,” Bartheld says. “Many Latinas are unaware of trauma and how it might be affecting them.”

Bartheld and Contreras use the Seeking Safety curriculum to empower women by focusing on safe coping skills to overcome traumas and achieve safety in their relationships, behavior and thinking.

Seeking Safety is an evidence-based course that decreases depression, anxiety, unsafe coping, suicidology and substance abuse. It is designed to educate and prevent more trauma to those who experience, domestic violence, sexual assault, PTSD and addiction.

Evidence shows Seeking Safety programs can decrease depression, domestic violence and mental health issues, says Amy Lewis, a health care advocate at The Harbor.

The support group meets 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays at The Harbor, 801 Commercial St., Astoria.

Advocating for Latinas

Many Latinas don’t report abuse because of fear of making police reports or fear of their abuser, Bartheld says. Other barriers are language and immigration laws.

“Providing a bilingual advocate and a specific Latina service, we can help survivors develop trust and dismiss fear.”

The Harbor does not require police reports or proof of identity. Survivors may remain anonymous.

People may be referred to Seeking Safety by Clatsop Behavioral Health Care, therapists of care providers. They can also call Bartheld at 503-338-9131 or Contreras at 503-559-7126. Once they are accepted into the Seeking Safety support group, participants can drop in.

Participants do not need to attend each session, and transportation is available for those who need it.

They do not have to relive their trauma but focus on how it is affecting them now. It is a long process to learn the language and the tools for safety, Bartheld says.

There are numerous topics that include:

  • Asking for help
  • Setting boundaries
  • Taking good care of yourself
  • Coping with triggers
  • Healing from anger
  • Compassion

The participants choose the subject they would like to focus on each session.

Most women in the group are single moms working two jobs with kids at home, Bartheld says. Many don’t have connection to social services. The Harbor works with the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council to assist Latinos with services.

Seeking Safety for Latinas is about empowering women to heal from trauma.

Bartheld is a social worker from Chilé, who has specialized in family mediation. She says, “Latinas have an incredible capacity for resilience. We are very strong women. We can overcome everything.”

The Harbor