Supporting Survivors with a Comprehensive and Intersectional Approach for Long Term Success

Domestic Violence Awareness Month Guest Blog by Perla P. Flores of Community Solutions

Forty-eight-year-old Viviana*[1]was born and raised in Mexico. She had a 26-year-old daughter from her first marriage and a one-year old son from a recent relationship. Prior to migrating to the United States, Viviana had studied child development and was working at an elementary school. *Aesha graduated with an engineering degree from a university in Punjab, India. A few years later, she married and relocated to the U.S. to be with her husband. Cindy was born and raised in the U.S. She was33 years old and dreamt of becoming a cosmetologist. Despite their cultural differences, diverse upbringing, and unique goals, the three women shared a common experience – they were all victims of intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking by their partners.

Aesha was referred to Community Solutions by the Sunnyvale Police Department. She had moved to Sunnyvale from India several months prior to join her husband. Shortly after arriving in Sunnyvale, Aesha discovered that her husband had a fiancé and that he brought Aesha to the U.S. to serve as his domestic servant and caretaker for his elderly parents. Aesha’s husband and his parents repeatedly berated and beat her. Her husband controlled all of her movements.

Viviana walked into Community Solutions’ Morgan Hill office looking for support after Jorge, her abusive partner, threatened to use the legal process to obtain full custody of their one-year-old son and have her deported. Viviana shared that Jorge had been her high school sweetheart in Mexico. After decades of not hearing from him, he reached out and they began along-distance relationship. Eventually, Jorge convinced Viviana to move to the U.S. and marry him. When she arrived, she found out that he was already married. He then began physically, sexually, and emotionally abusing her. He pressured her to work for free at his janitorial business. She had no friends or family in the area.

Cindy sought refuge in Community Solutions’ confidential shelter La Isla Pacifica (the Peaceful Island) after suffering a severe beating at the hands of her boyfriend, Greg. When they first met, Greg was really sweet and generous. Then he began beating Cindy and coercing her into sleeping with other men for money. When she refused, he would beat her or kick her out of their apartment. Prior to meeting Greg, 33-year-old Cindy was attending junior college and wanted to pursue a career in nursing or cosmetology.

Anybody can be a victim of gender-based violence – regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, educational background, social-economic status, gender/gender expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc. Although every one of the survivors served by Community Solutions has a unique story, they all share one commonality – the use of abusive tactics to first exert and then maintain power and control over another.


Gender-based violence can take many forms and generate complex intersections. The incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) and abuse is staggering and remains a worldwide issue. Abuse by an intimate partner is the most commonly reported type of gender-based violence. The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Statistics indicates that there were over five million reports of violent crime in 2019; including over 1,100,000 reports of domestic violence and almost 460,000 reports of rape or sexual assault. According to the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Around one third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner; and 18% have experienced such violence in the past 12 months. In the most extreme cases, violence against women is lethal: globally, an estimated137 women are killed by their intimate partner or a family member every day.”  The National Council Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.  Additionally, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.


Sexual violence also occurs at an alarming rate. Research from the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA) indicates that in the U.S. 21% of women and 3% of men reported completed or attempted rape ever in their lifetime and 23% of women and 9% of men reported forced sexual activity ever in their lifetime. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, every 73 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. About one-fifth of all rapes, one-fourth of all physical assaults, and one-half of all stalking perpetrated against females by their intimate partners were reported to law enforcement.


Human trafficking has always existed in some shape or form. However, passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 provided a framework for protection of victims and prosecution of traffickers. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 20 million men, woman, and children are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking worldwide, including in the United States. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are approximately 57,700 people enslaved in the United States. The United States Department of State estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States each year. The greater San Francisco Bay Area has a population of 6.4million people. An average 26.4 % of this population is foreign-born and an average of 22.4 % is under 18 years of age.

Community Solutions provides intersectional, confidential support to an average of 2,500 survivors of GBV per year. Providing trauma-informed, survivor-centered, and empowerment-based support requires screening for, and addressing, different types and intersections of victimization. Our confidential shelter La Isla Pacifica has provided a safe refuge to over 2,600 victims of intimate partner abuse (IPA) and more than 2,700 children since its inception in 1978. In 1985, we extended services to sexual assault (SA) survivors residing in South Santa Clara County. In late 2003, Community Solutions broadened victim services to include human trafficking (HT) support, and co-founded the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking (Coalition).


In 2018 Community Solutions developed the Victim Needs Screening Tool (VNST) to ensure survivors receive intersectional, comprehensive support in response to their individual needs. The VNST is used with adult survivors to identify possible past or current instances of IPV, sexual assault, labor trafficking and/or sex trafficking.  Survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV)are at particular risk for additional violence or exploitation at the hands of their partner. Roughly 40% of IPV survivors served by Community Solutions report being sexually assaulted by their partner and about 5% of IPV survivor shave been trafficked by their partner for labor or commercial sex. Gender based violence also intersections with other social issues including physical and mental health, challenges to establishing self-sufficiency, homelessness, and legal needs – such as the need for immigration, employment, housing, and family law representation and criminal defense.

Supporting Viviana, Aesha, and Cindy comprehensively, and with an intersectional approach, required a paradigm shift; expanding service focus and prioritizing their needs to ensure seamless support from crisis to long-term stability and sustainability.  Community Solutions is committed to supporting all service providers to ensure that long term safety, stability and wellness are in place for all survivors.  

For more information about our work and to inquire about training and technical assistance in our model and tools, please contact me at Perla.Flores@CommunitySolutions.org.

Perla P. Flores has worked on issues of gender-based violence since 2003. In her current role as Senior Division Director, Ms. Flores oversees domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking programs at Community Solutions, a non-profit human services agency serving South Santa Clara County and San Benito County. She is a founding member and current chair of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. Ms. Flores co-authored the Human Trafficking Advocate Manual, A Resource Guide for Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Advocates Working With Human Trafficking Survivors and has developed several guidelines and promising practices on human trafficking crisis intervention and case management. Ms. Flores is a commissioner on the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council and an alternate commissioner on the Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Commission. She is also a member of the Santa Clara County CEDAW Task Force. Ms. Flores holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Juris Doctor. She is a recipient of the California Peace Prize and the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council Outstanding Advocate Award. 


[1]Survivor names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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