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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sexual abuse survivor Hanncel Sanchez helps others in Latinx community

Hanncel Sanchez founded Mujeres in Action that assists Latinx survivors of domestic violence. She won the YWCA Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Hanncel Sanchez never thought she would be where she is today, leading a nonprofit organization dedicated to Latinx survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. A series of events turned her into a community leader, a leader who has been given the 2022 YWCA Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award.

Sanchez is one of eight women to be recognized with Women of Achievement Awards by the YWCA this year. The women will be recognized at a community luncheon March 24, at 11:30 a.m., at the Davenport Grand.

Sanchez grew up in Venezuela until she and her family moved to Orlando, Florida, when she was a teenager. She graduated from high school there in 2007. She couldn’t afford college, but an anonymous sponsor paid for her community college classes for a year and a half. Sanchez was close to receiving her associate degree when she and her family moved to Washington state.

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was created in 2012, Sanchez signed up. The program is for undocumented people who came to the United States as children and allows them to live, work and go to school in the U.S. “I’m a Dreamer,” Sanchez said.

She enrolled in Eastern Washington University in 2016, which she calls a blessing. She thought it might be interesting to take a gender studies class and signed up, a decision that would alter her life’s path. “I fell in love with it,” she said. “This speaks to me, speaks to my experience.”

She worked part-time jobs at her church and as a caregiver while attending classes. She graduated in 2019 with a degree in women and gender studies. Sanchez said she learned key concepts that she could use in a variety of ways. “It’s such a cool degree,” she said. “You can use it for pretty much anything you want to do.”

While she was a student, she volunteered with the sexual assault hotline run by Lutheran Community Services. “I am a survivor of sexual abuse,” she said. “Those experiences help determine who you are. It’s so hard for survivors to come forward to tell their story. It took me years to tell my story.”

She became aware that there was a lack of support for survivors of physical and sexual violence in the Latinx community. There simply weren’t many programs that were culturally responsive or designed to serve Spanish speakers, Sanchez said. The Latinx community was spread out and didn’t have a cohesive core. Sanchez herself felt out of place. “I could not see that problem and not do anything about it,” she said.

She began talking with her family, members of her community and representatives from the YWCA and Lutheran Community Services, both organizations that assist women who are fleeing domestic and/or sexual violence. Sanchez wanted to create something that would serve the Latinx community without duplicating what already existed.

“I wanted to give hope to the people around me,” she said. “It took months.”

She launched Mujeres in Action (Women in Action) in fall 2018. It was a volunteer effort until the organization became a 501(c)3 in 2019. Grants allowed the new organization to hire staff and Sanchez became the executive director in January 2020.

Mujeres in Action provides a variety of programs and services to survivors of abuse, including legal and housing assistance. “Whatever we cannot do, we refer out for services,” Sanchez said. “From the beginning, the community welcomed us. The word spread pretty fast in our community.”

Sanchez said she’d like to become more involved in policy advocacy. She’s also working to expand the organization’s office and add more staff. “We’re already overwhelmed with the cases that we have,” she said. “It’s going to help us better serve our community.”

Despite her passionate work to help her community, Sanchez said she was surprised when she learned she’d been given the 2022 Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award. “I was not expecting it,” she said. “I feel very humbled to be named among so many amazing women.”