According to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 2,300 or 9 percent of the population of Tillamook County is of Hispanic or Latino origin, an 84 percent increase since 2000.
Reaching out to that growing population, however, is not always easy, particularly in the case of those who may be experiencing domestic or sexual violence in their lives.
“We know we need to focus more energy on reaching out to our Latino community,” noted TCWRC Executive Director Kathleen Marvin. “So this year, we are putting extra emphasis on finding ways to do that.”
At the front lines of this effort is TCWRC Bilingual Advocate, Norma Obrist.
Obrist, who was born in California but raised in the Mexican state of Sonora, moved to Tillamook County to live with her aunt in Cloverdale when she was 14. She attended Nestucca High School for a while, then graduated from Tillamook High School. She and her husband, dairyman Todd Obrist, have three boys, ages 8, 6 and 1 and live in Tillamook.
Obrist joined the TCWRC staff in 2007.
“The most important thing to me is to be able to help people, especially if I can help them change their lives for the better,” said Obrist.
The challenges faced by many Spanish-speaking women, particularly those who may be undocumented, can be daunting, she explained.
“One of the issues that I see a lot is the language. When you’re already going through a hard situation like domestic violence or sexual assault, there are extra barriers for someone who does not speak the language. There’s even more fear about their immigration status, the fear of making a police report because you feel like, instead of getting the help you need, you might get arrested. In addition, many times, the husbands control them completely and won’t let them out.
“We explain to all our clients that we do not make reports to immigration or to the police.
“I’m also now doing more to reach out to women at places they might go. For instance, I go into Mexican stores or restaurants. I talk to owners and let them know that we have services for their customers. They are very helpful and supportive.”
Obrist said she distributes her business card around the community to let people know she is available to them at any time.
“They know they can reach me, even on my days off. A lot of times, clients will approach me in the grocery store or places like that.”
Obrist said a particularly helpful partner in her work has been Catholic Charities.
“They have a program to help victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. They can help with visas and work permits and with problems with their legal status.
“This kind of help destroys the barrier that keeps a lot of Latino women from reporting. They don’t have to stay where they are not safe if they have other options. This program gives them those options.”
Obrist said she has been able to help 15 or 20 clients obtain legal visas since the program came to the county around 2009.
Obrist also helps clients with basic life situations that create barriers to them. “If they can’t speak or read English, I might help them fill out paperwork or make a doctor’s appointment,” she explained.
And Obrist is especially excited because she will be the bilingual person who takes part in the county’s new sexual assault response team.
Marvin noted that Obrist also will lend her Spanish language skills to the translation of educational materials and forms for clients. And she will be working to recruit Spanish-speaking volunteers. “Norma is a fabulous advocate,” Marvin said. “She is knowledgeable and, above all, compassionate. We are so fortunate to have her on our team.”
24-hour helpline: (503) 842-9486 or toll free in Oregon 1 (800) 992-1679
Tillamook County Women's Resource Center, 1902 2nd Street, Tillamook, OR 97141 (503) 842-9486 ♦ 1-800-992-1679 ♦ TTY 1-800-877-8973 Office Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday