by Mariam Rauf
Outreach Program Manager, Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project
Every now and then, we are asked whether domestic violence can be stopped. Yes. It can and will be stopped. If we didn’t believe in ending domestic violence, we would have removed it from our mission a long time ago. We envision a world without domestic violence. We believe in every person’s right to feel safe in relationships. We believe world peace starts at home.
The Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP) has served survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault for 20 years. DVRP’s mission is to address, prevent, and end domestic violence and sexual assault in the Asian/Pacific Islander (A/PI) community in the DC metro area, while empowering survivors to rebuild their lives after abuse. Our work is grounded in survivors’ experiences, needs and priorities. We don’t tell them what to do; they tell us what they need to be safe. We have survivors on staff, on our board, and also as advocates and volunteers. Collectively, we speak over 20 A/PI languages and have access to many more through our community partners. Our response is holistic and culturally and linguistically specific to our clients.
How do we work to end domestic violence? By starting the conversation in our communities. We discreetly incorporate key elements of DV 101 into our community trainings and tea talks regarding healthy relationships. But we don’t start talking about domestic violence immediately. We discuss root causes, including the expectations and societal pressures of gender roles and how they can do more harm than good. How does society expect women and girls to act? How are men and boys expected to behave in relationships? Once we analyse these expectations, we examine how these attitudes can prevent women and girls from speaking up about acts of violence, and how men and boys are not encouraged to share feelings of vulnerability and fear. Our discussions aim to drastically shift attitudes on gender roles. We can take what we have defined as “normal” gender behaviors and upend them. We hope that girls can begin to reclaim their bodies and voices. We also hope that boys embrace aspects of their character which society typically labels as feminine. This transformation in our personal attitudes and communities can initiate the end of domestic violence.
DVRP leads grassroots discussions of gender roles and healthy/unhealthy relationships with individuals from all walks of life, including community leaders, mainsteam service providers, student organizations, young professionals, and the elderly. We will talk to anyone who wants to build stronger communities by freeing homes from violence. Earlier this year, we surveyed over 250 Asian American Pacific Islander DC residents on their knowledge of domestic violence and resources available in the District for domestic violence survivors. Over a third of the survey respondents said domestic violence was “extremely common” or “very common” in the A/PI community. Over a third also said they knew someone in a domestic violence situation. However, no one we talked to (in private or in public) has said it’s okay to treat a partner or family member in a violent, abusive manner.
There are underlying dynamics that perpetuate violence in our communities. Working with the A/PI demographic, some of the prevalent contributing factors include:
- Privacy. Family matters should not be discussed publicly. The notion that privacy should be maintained regardless of the severity of what is happening in the home allows family abuse to continue without intervention or support from those outside of the family.
- Taboo. Discussing relationships and sexual behavior is inappropriate. Consequently, topics related to sexuality are forbidden. When we collectively refuse to address sex, we allow sexually violent behavior to thrive in the vacuum of silence.
- Shame. Family honor is superior to the individual. Many of us go to great lengths to preserve that honor by avoiding anything that might shame the family.However, prioritizing family honor over survivors’ wellbeing, silences them and keeps them in potentially life-threatening situations.
- Victim Blaming. It’s the victim’s fault. We ask survivors what they were wearing, what they did or say that caused the abuse. When we exclusively focus on the survivor, we release the abuser from any accountability for his/her actions.
The path to ending domestic violence involves directly confronting and changing our beliefs and assumptions about traditionally sensitive topics. We encourage everyone to be an ambassador for the cause: Start informal or formal conversations in your community about domestic violence. Provide a safe, confidential space for survivors to open up and share their stories. Listen to survivors. Believe them. Don’t judge or tell them what to do. Don’t forget that a survivor is most at danger when s/he decides to leave an abusive relationship. Hold abusers accountable. Take a stand and show that domestic violence is not accepted in your community. This is how we end domestic violence.
Mariam Rauf is the Outreach Program Manager at the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Program Resource Project (DVRP).
YWCA’s Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and communities across the country to end violence in all of its forms and wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence – NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit www.ywca.org/wwv and join the conversation with #EndDVnow.