Norma Ferraro, MA, always knew she wanted to fight for justice. After earning a bachelor’s in sociology from Loyola University and a master’s in public anthropology with a concentration on gender violence from American University, she began working with victims of domestic violence. She found that the consequences of domestic violence are so far reaching, the effects so profound, and yet, it is deeply misunderstood by society. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to domestic violence,” Norma says. “Though it’s often about power and control, there is so much in play. First and foremost, my job is to assess the individuality of each situation.”
Norma has been an on-call advocate for GBMC’s Domestic Violence program and a SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examination) interventionist since the inception of the program in 2014. She knew right away that working in a hospital environment was a good fit for her background and essential for comprehensive patient services. “Everyone here understands the issues and knows that victims of domestic violence are at a high risk of having long-term health problems as a result,” she says. “They are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like drug and alcohol addiction and may find it more difficult to control anxiety, depression, or chronic illnesses.” Norma sees many women who have been strangled. “The long term consequences of strangulation can be very debilitating, even resulting in brain injuries,” she says. “There’s not a lot of awareness outside the field.”
That awareness, or lack thereof, is Norma’s passion. She frequently sees victims being blamed by society for a variety of reasons, including putting themselves in a dangerous situation or wearing the wrong thing. The stigmas are pervasive. “We tend to focus on what the victim did or didn’t do instead of shifting the dialog to be about the perpetrators,” she says. “It’s always, ‘She should have left,’ instead of ‘He shouldn’t have chosen violence.’”
This misplaced blame and ingrained guilt, Norma feels, is what gets victims into even more dangerous positions. That’s where she comes in with safety planning, crisis counseling, resource linkage, and emotional support. One of her specialties has become forming relationships with Hispanic patients. As a native Spanish speaker born in Peru, Norma can immediately connect with people who are not comfortable with English, making them feel less vulnerable. She prides herself on her ability to help the program’s immigrant population not feel like “others.” It can take the edge off of a stressful situation. “I help them express themselves in Spanish, which makes them more comfortable,” she says. “When they hear their own language spoken back, there’s a connection – there’s trust. They feel understood and believed. I keep them from losing hope.”
Join Norma and the rest of the SAFE team as they shatter the stigmas of rape, sexual assault, domestic abuse, and intimate partner violence on April 21, 2018 at GBMC’s third annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®.