Breaking the Silence

Honduras, September 30, 2004

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Roger Burks/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Kayla, a paralegal officer for the DEBORAH program, stands in front of the center's legal library — a resource for its clients. Photo: Roger Burks/Mercy Corps

In rural Honduras, poverty and hunger gnaw away at families every day. However, there's another daily tragedy tearing village households apart: domestic violence.

Domestic violence is a hidden and largely secret affliction among Honduran families. The silence surrounding domestic abuse veils any attempt to gather statistics about the problem. However, rumors and telltale bruises reveal the truth: it's rampant. From time to time, the silence is broken with the death of a woman or child.

Mercy Corps, working with local partner Project Global Village, is bringing the heartbreak and danger of domestic violence out in the open, in order to change attitudes and save lives.

Launched in 1999, the Mercy Corps program is called DEBORAH. It seeks to intervene in cases of domestic violence by providing legal services to women, families and communities.

For years, one of the biggest obstacles to reducing domestic abuse in Honduras has been the perception that it is simply "an aspect of the culture." Many parts of Honduran society, including communities, the police and local churches, hold on to this mindset.

The DEBORAH program aims to change this way of thinking by teaching women to defend their rights, as well as empowering communities to support them.

From the outset of the program, Mercy Corps has sought to enlist the aid of local police, politicians, judges and other community leaders in the struggle against domestic violence. Today, the DEBORAH program has enormous support and collaboration from local authorities.

Over the past four years, the program's paralegal officers have managed more than 750 counseling cases in four Honduran cities. From those cases, there have been 211 non-aggression agreements between couples reached out of court, and 450 alimony settlements. Nearly 2000 people have visited the law libraries located in the DEBORAH program's four office locations. Since its founding, the program has educated over 2500 community members, including teachers, religious leaders and politicians.

In Taulabe, one of the cities where the program maintains an office, there are currently 300 clients in legal orientation classes and 200 clients undergoing domestic violence counseling. In addition, DEBORAH paralegal officers recently trained 60 teachers to speak out against domestic violence.

Kayla, one of the paralegal officers in Taulabe, has been working with the DEBORAH program for the last two and a half years. She meets and counsels women who come to the office, which is located in the local municipal building. She sees up to seven clients each day.

"We give self-esteem classes and provide a counseling program to help women and families heal," Kayla said.

Kayla often goes to local schools that have night classes to teach people about domestic violence and explain DEBORAH's programs. Educating communities about domestic abuse is integral to breaking the cycle of violence that plagues Honduran families.

"Sometimes, after we've done a teacher training, children have gone home from school and told their abused moms to seek help at DEBORAH," Kayla said.

The DEBORAH program is unique in Honduras: it's a grassroots approach to educating communities, resolving conflict and building a society that's safer for women and children.

Mercy Corps is helping Honduran women break the silence of domestic violence and gain their own strong voice.