Erin Thornley Parisi, executive director Dane County Rape Crisis Center

Sexual violence and rape affect over half of Latino women over their lifetime, according to a 2010 survey from the Centers for Disease Control.

But a 2010 study found only 3.3 percent of Latino victims accessed services like abuse counseling, shelter, domestic violence counseling and crisis lines.

Madison's Rape Crisis Center wants to change this and expand its efforts to serve the Latino community. To do that, the organization is hoping to win a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant.

RCC’s project, “Sexual Assault Intervention and Prevention in Latino Communities,” was selected as a top 200 finalist for the grant, out of 2,000 entries. The 40 projects that receive the most online votes between now and Aug. 24 will receive $25,000.

Natalia Hildner is the part-time Latinx Community Outreach Specialist for the RCC. The funds would allow RCC to turn her job into a full-time position.

At RCC, she’s seen Latino clients receive services from a bilingual counselor. Those women went on to “healthy, holistic lives” and “be able to have the psychological strength to progress.”

“That’s why I think it’s so important to increase accessibility to our services and outreach better,” she said. “To know they don't have to live in darkness and silence and shame.”

The moment she entered the field, Hildner said, she saw little access to crisis intervention and a vast need for prevention work in the Latino community.

Sexual assault is a vastly under-reported violent crime, and it can be particularly hard for women of color to report to service providers who don’t look like them. For something so personal, the idea that a worker may not understand where you’re coming from can be frightening.

“When you’re already dealing with trauma, what you don’t want to have to do is explain who you are, your experience,” Lilada Gee, who runs a multicultural support program for victims of sexual abuse known as Lilada’s Livingroom, said in a Cap Times cover story on the topic.

In the Latino community, there can also be a language barrier, which can create a fundamental block to “any sort of accessibility,” Hildner said.

But effective communication goes beyond translation. Hildner is helping develop a strategy for talking about sexual violence in the Latino community, because “we have a different value system” and think about honor and shame differently, she said. Plus, any undocumented victims may have “an intense fear of reaching out and getting help.”

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“The same messages that may completely identify and bring awareness to mainstream white community,” Hildner said, may not “connect at all to hearts and minds in the Latino community.”

As a bilingual and bicultural employee, Hildner could create culturally-specific resources and curriculum. Full-time status would give Hildner time to launch outreach projects, like a holistic health class that would include topics like dental insurance, breast cancer awareness and healthy relationships “to link awareness about sexual violence with health in general, so it’s not seen as a side issue,” Hildner said.

Hildner also wants to network and better collaborate with other service providers like UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence, a Madison nonprofit serving Latino victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as other victim advocates, bilingual nurses and police officers. RCC can learn from UNIDOS, and the two can better strategize how to more effectively outreach to the local Latinx community, Hildner said.

With so many other issues facing the Latinx community like family separation and immigration, sexual violence can sometimes be sidelined, Hildner said, because although sexual violence affects all genders, it can be seen as a women’s issue and there can be “so much shame” surrounding it.

“This is the best time to show your solidarity with the Latinx community, knowing all the other crises that are happening in the country with us,” she said.

Adults over 18 with an email address can vote up to 10 times a day at, after completing a quick, one-time registration, Hildner said.

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