SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico
(WOMENSENEWS)--Violence against women runs through almost all
cultures and domestic abuse is colorblind. But recently,
multicultural experts got together to share their
sometimes-diverging experiences, strategies and one common
conviction: One size doesn't fit all.
violence advocates from across the United States, the Virgin Islands
and Puerto Rico came together late last month at the first
U.S.-sponsored multi-cultural forum on violence against women.
All agreed on one
thing: To better provide for abused women, whether African American,
Native American, Latinas, Asian, or lesbian, services must consider
each woman's own reality and that of her culture.
"One size fits all
doesn't work effectively on culturally diverse communities.
Therefore we have to develop better ways to address the concerns of
these communities," said Adelita Medina, executive director of the
National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence,
known as Alianza. The conference was sponsored by the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services.
As this was the first
conference to focus on cultural issues, participants commiserated in
their struggles and rejoiced in their progress.
"We finally have come
together to talk about our work," said Beth E. Richie from the
Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community.
"We can learn about what the different institutes are doing around
the country and make some sense of being able to collaborate, to try
to make sure that what we're doing isn't just riding on the crest of
a current wave, but that we can stick around and continue to do this
Each race or ethnic
group has different traditions, norms and environments to consider,
the 400 participants were told. In African American communities, for
example, the relationship with the criminal justice system is
Communities, Mistrust of Police Rules Out Calling 911
"While in other
communities, it's an appropriate response to call the police, that's
not always effective in our communities, because law enforcement
isn't seen as a helpful service provider," adds Richie, also a
professor of criminal justice and women's studies at the University
of Illinois at Chicago and on the steering committee of the
Another problem is
what Richie calls the trap of loyalty.
"There's a sense of
not wanting to give people over to a system that is apparently
discriminatory against people of color, especially men of color. So
women feel ambivalent in participating in the demise of a whole
community of men, and in turn they may be less likely to reach out
for help, thereby making them more vulnerable."
In Asian families,
violence is wrapped in an entirely different package.
"Most victims of
family violence report men begging them to stay after a violent
incident. Within Asian relationships, it's often the opposite," said
Firoza Chic Dabby, director of the recently formed Asian Pacific
Islander Institute. "Men are saying, 'I can get another wife,' and
the family members are all against a woman who tries to leave," said
"Often women report
fear of losing custody of children because all the family members
support the man, saying that if she is leaving, if she speaks up,
she is not fit to be a mother," explained Dabby. Not only do Asian
women have little support from other family members when violence is
involved, but often they are confronted with multiple batterers in
an Asian family.
In Native American
communities, there's a misconception that violence is traditional,
Violence Low for Native American Communities
"Violence was treated
very harshly in the Indian country before colonization. The
punishment was banishment. Most of the tribes were matriarchal,"
said Beverly Wilkins of Peaceful Nations, a consulting firm that
trains and educates on violence in tribal communities.
people, American Indians were forced to migrate, put into isolation
on reservations and exploited. The internal oppression was a result
of the external, until violence became ingrained in their society,
Violent crime is 2.5
times higher among Native Americans than in the population as a
whole, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the rate
of sexual assault and rape is 3.5 times higher. Many tribal
governments have no laws recognizing domestic violence as a crime;
therefore, little data is available on prevalence of domestic
"Lack of funding and
lack of interest on the part of the tribal government is a major
problem," said Wilkins, also a representative of the Sacred Circle
National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women.
communities, the legacy of patriarchy is a long one, said Ricardo
Carrillo, director of training and technical assistance for Alianza.
Latinos have historically been oppressed in their native countries
since the colonization of the Americas by the Spanish, and in the
United States by poverty and immigration issues, he said. He cited a
study of undocumented immigrants that found that 64 percent of
Latinas do not report abuse or seek help for fear of deportation.
The initiatives of
the diverse institutes include fostering research, effecting policy
change and training service providers to be culturally sensitive.
Women Pressured to Stay: Men Find Other Women
"Services are often
predicated on women leaving, but many women don't leave," said Dabby
of the Asian Pacific Islander Institute. "There are many barriers.
One may not speak the language or maybe can't drive or doesn't know
the system, but there are also barriers that the culture imposes:
You shouldn't be leaving; you should stay and try harder.
how does a woman negotiate?"
families, Alianza has been working with men who batter, a change
from the traditional approach that emphasized separating women
"The picture we began
to see was that men were in jail, women were in shelters, and
children were in foster care," said Sandra Camacho, co-chair of
Alianza. "That is not an acceptable reality for us."
The Alianza model
holds men accountable by showing them that, as a result of
historical, colonial oppression, they have, in turn, learned to
oppress women. And by helping them see this reality, the belief is
that they will change how they behave.
institutes began getting federal recognition and funding as a result
of the U.S. Violence Against Women Act in 1994, which was
reauthorized last year. The Clinton administration dramatically
increased support for services and research. Activists are waiting
to see how the Bush administration approaches the problem.
Only about 30
participants were men, though advocates acknowledge that men play an
important part in changing the dynamics of domestic violence.
"Not only do we
believe in working with men who batter, but we believe in working
with men who do not batter and who can serve as role models for
young people as well as for other men," said Medina, executive
director of Alianza.
Puerto Rico Is Model
for the Americas
As the host of the
forum, Puerto Rican officials addressed the struggle and progress in
women's issues on the island, a U.S. commonwealth.
The island of 4
million inhabitants has been progressive among Latin American
nations in legal strategies against domestic violence. As early as
the 1970s, the government established a Women's Affairs Commission
and amended civil and penal codes to offer more protection for
abused women. In 1989, a Domestic Violence Law was established.
However, Puerto Rican women are still frequently abused.
"Though we are proud
of all that we've done and that we have been a model for legislation
in South and Central America, still, every 15 days a woman is
murdered by her partner in our country, and 20,000 restraining
orders are sought in the courts every year," said María Dolores
Fernos, the first Women's Advocate on the island.
continues and is accepted, which means that all that we've done
hasn't been enough."
Caryn Nesmith is a
journalist in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Own Domestic Violence Strategies (5/10/01):
Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence (Alianza):
Domestic Violence in the African American Community:
popular dot-com for teens will be transformed into a not-for-profit
SmartGirl.org, under the new ownership of the Institute for Research
on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan.
version had not been updated for months and a backlog of postings
and other material is now available. An entirely new version of the
site will be rolled out at the beginning of next year.
girls to anonymously share their opinions and stories, write
reviews, and participate in polls involving topics that range from
homework to sexually transmitted diseases.
"In addition to being
a place to connect with other girls from around the country,
SmartGirl will become a place where girls can actually use
reasoning, problem solving, and communication skills to address
issues that mean something to them," said Abigail Stewart, director
of the university's institute.
The National Science
Foundation has provided an $842,877 grant for the development of
SmartGirl.org. Other plans for the site include using University of
Michigan classes, including those from the School of Information,
School of Education, psychology and women's studies programs, to
redesign portions of the site and to plan ways for girls to interact
with undergraduate Web mentors.
The commercial Web
site is about five years old and was given to the university after
the previous owners could no longer keep up with its maintenance.
"I couldn't stand the
thought of closing a site that so many girls have come to love,"
said founder Isabel Walcott. --Jessica McRorie