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Nonprofit launches Spanish-language hotline for women

Martha Maffei is executive director of Sepa Mujer,

Martha Maffei is executive director of Sepa Mujer, a Patchogue-based group that created a hotline for Latina crime victims. Credit: Martha Maffei

A Patchogue nonprofit has established a Spanish-language hotline to make it easier for Latina crime victims to seek help.

SEPA Mujer said the hotline, established last week and called Ayuda Latina, provides information, emotional support and referrals to victims of crimes, such as wage theft, hate crimes, gender-based violence and gang violence. It is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by volunteers “who hail from a myriad of diverse Latin American backgrounds,” SEPA Mujer said in a news release.

SEPA Mujer executive director Martha Maffei said the hotline —  833-762-9832 — was established to help Spanish-speaking victims reach volunteer counselors who converse in their native language. It helps women in crisis to speak to people who know their language and understand the unique challenges facing Latina immigrants, Maffei said.

She said the coronavirus pandemic is forcing many domestic violence victims to stay home with their abusers, making it more difficult for them to report crimes and seek assistance. 

“People are living with their abusers right now," Maffei said. "They may not have the opportunity to call 911," adding the circumstances make it "more risky now to report them.”

About 30 people have contacted SEPA Mujer through the hotline or social media in the past week, Maffei said.

Ayuda ("help" in Spanish) Latina is part of the organization’s victim’s assistance program, which receives funding from the state Office of Victim Services. The name SEPA Mujer is a Spanish contraction for Servicios Para el Avance de Mujer, or Services for the Advancement of Women. 

Ayuda Latina volunteers “recognize that immigrant victims of crime often suffer in silence because of fear of blame, reprisal and lack of knowledge about their rights,” SEPA Mujer victim assistance program director Clarice Murphy said in a statement. “Through this hotline, volunteers will provide support to Latina crime victims so they can make informed decisions about accessing resources and obtaining justice.”

SEPA Mujer has chapters in Patchogue, Riverhead, Huntington Station and Hampton Bays, each of which has 40 to 50 regular clients from across Suffolk and Nassau counties, Maffei said.

Clients often seek help because they lack food and transportation, and many struggle to pay rent, Maffei said.

“Many people that are Spanish speaking, when they call sometimes to other hotlines, they don’t have people available [to speak] Spanish,” she said. “We’re able to get food into their homes. We have people, they are asking about situations involving the rent. … They are afraid to speak to landlords.”

The group offers Spanish-language support groups — conducted via conference calls to comply with social distancing guidelines — and immigration legal services, she said. SEPA Mujer does not provide direct financial aid but tries to connect clients with charities that do, she said. 

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