After living with the violence for four years and seeing potential trails toward assistance run cold, Ortega did not believe help was out there for her.
"It's very scary to get out of a domestic violence situation and go around asking for anything," Richter said. "As soon as it looks like there isn't help, they will quit. They don't have the energy and are so filled with fear. They won't go driving or taking the bus around trying to find help."
Help hides in plain sight
After walking out of her home that December night in 2010, Ortega pleaded for answers and fought off tears. Feeling nauseous before the brutal attack from Tepoxtecatl, Ortega was now in need of medical attention. The blood was starting to clot and was matting down her short black hair.
The equation ran once more in her head as she stood under a street lamp.
"My three children had already seen too much, had been through too much," the 32-year-old said. "After he hit my daughter, that was it. I wouldn't let my baby girl on the way go through what my oldest went through."
Finally she went to a neighbor's house, and they called the police. She was taken to Valley Hospital Medical Center for treatment. Tepoxtecatl denied he hit Ortega with the clock radio, but officers found the bloodied bedside item in the trash. The children were taken by Child Protective Services for the night. Tepoxtecatl was arrested on two charges, misdemeanor battery -- domestic violence and felony battery with a deadly weapon, according to police records. He was sentenced to two weeks in jail and one year probation. Ortega has not seen Tepoxtecatl since the trial.
That was just the beginning of Ortega's recovery. She was unemployed, pregnant and frail. She still had not been introduced to the services that would put her on stable ground again.
"No one asked me anything, and no one told me anything," Ortega said. "I went to organizations that supposedly help families, and they turned me away because I'm here illegally. Because I didn't have a Social Security number, they didn't want to help me or my children."
Perla Padilla, a Mexican immigrant living in Las Vegas, was beaten unconscious by her now ex-husband and father of her son. Padilla's husband bit off a portion of her lip, and she would later wake up in the hospital with injuries that would require two surgeries to repair. She referred to her introduction to domestic violence services as the "chain."
"It was like I was blind," the 23-year-old said in Spanish. "I was in my own world, and I simply didn't know that help was out there. But after I was in the hospital I was referred to one place, then it went from there. One recommendation led to another."
Unlike Ortega, Perla had her family here to help. She already has her visa, and is working as a maid at the Mirage. The structure of her life has been rebuilt, while her psyche is a work in progress.
"What people don't realize is a little delay is a big deal," Padilla said. "I still need therapy. Recovery is a long process."
While all three of the major Las Vegas providers of domestic violence services, Shade Tree, Safe Nest, and S.A.F.E. House, keep Spanish-speaking staff on hand and accept all clients regardless of immigration status, none of their websites is translated into Spanish.
Administrators from all three lamented that tight budgets have prevented them from commissioning the translations and from adding more Spanish speakers to assist their overworked bilingual staff.
"I thought a shelter was for homeless people," Ortega said. "I had a home. I had no idea that there were places that would take me in, much less my children too. I was completely unaware of the services and options available."
Then, one day while at her daughter's elementary school, Ortega met the first link in what would become her "chain." She had left her first Las Vegas church, which failed to support her, and Ortega's new friend introduced her to a different congregation and advocated on her behalf. The church solicited donations for the family.
It was not until Ortega saw a report on Spanish-language television about Safe Faith United and its founder, Rebeca Ferreira, that she finally made contact with an organization specializing in domestic violence.
Indeed, Ferreira started Safe Faith United because she saw a deficiency in the services provided to all women of color.
"We need to realize something is terribly wrong," Ferreira said. "The rates of abuse are far too high in Nevada. We need to make changes, and I think that begins with strengthening laws and providing a variety of programs. Not every victim is the same and can be approached in the same way."
Ferreira has also worked with Padilla, whose ex-husband was a U.S. citizen, making her eligible to self-petition for residency under the Violence Against Women Act. The act applies in the majority of cases to those who have been abused by U.S. citizens. Ortega, on the other hand, with no ties to the United States was only eligible for a visa, which was crafted to aid in the prosecution of violent crimes by providing a legal status to those who cooperate with authorities.
After six months on her own, Ortega was steered toward Hermandad Mexicana, a nonprofit organization that specializes in immigration issues, and she applied for her visa.
These days Ortega cares for her children -- the baby was born without any health issues despite the abuse and poor nutrition -- and waits for word on her visa application. The estimated processing time is eight to nine months.
She takes her small children with her as she collects cans to recycle for extra money. She has always worked and would like to work again but is prohibited from doing so while her visa application is vetted. So, instead she receives food stamps and money through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which she was eligible for after starting her path toward legal residency.
If she had known sooner that a visa was an option, she might already be working.
"It was months after (Tepoxtecatl) was arrested before I received any help at all," Ortega said. "I know the services are there now, but it is very hard for someone in my position to find them. I didn't have a car, or even money to take my kids to school on the bus. I worry for those who don't make it, who don't leave. Others will not survive. They will end up with their skulls split open like me. Something must be done, because right now we are invisible."
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