October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s good to shine a spotlight on this issue, but we should all be aware of it at all times. This is more true than ever, as domestic violence has increased with the pandemic (even if police reports haven’t gone up correspondingly).
When I opened my firm in 2012, I knew I wanted to focus on working with immigrant survivors of domestic violence. At my prior firm, I was fortunate to learn about the Violence Against Women Act and U visas. I saw lives transformed when these immigration benefits were granted. So many times, the abuser threatened deportation to our clients and being able to prove the abuser wrong by getting to stay in the United States was key in seeing how many other things the abuser was wrong about (like being unlovable or worthless). Watching this transformation from fear to independence changed my life.
I have learned so much over the years from our clients. I have learned that abusers are human who need help and how Caminar Latino works with the entire family to break the cycle of violence. I have learned how different cultures view domestic violence differently – that it can be seen as a source of shame and that culturally-specific resources, like those at Raksha, address not just the act of violence, but how to navigate a new environment. Would you know the Indian version of 911? I wouldn’t, so why would I presume a new immigrant from India would know what 911 here is? With trainings from GAIN, I learned how to talk with survivors and to make them feel as comfortable as possible when sharing traumatic events with me, a near-stranger. For example, not to just say “did you experience domestic violence,” (because maybe we didn’t both have the same idea of what domestic violence is), but instead ask questions, such as “were you touched in a way that you didn’t want to be?”
Not every advocate who works with domestic violence survivors has a personal story of domestic violence, but many of us do. For me, it was watching close family members and friends go through this. I remember hearing the fights, seeing bruises, and giving hugs of comfort. No one should go through this. Love shouldn’t hurt. If you need help, please reach out. If you don’t know where to go, start with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (with services in English and Spanish) by calling 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).