Practicing Cultural Accessibility while Serving Domestic Violence Survivors
Friday, December 16th, 2016
Post submitted by Marissa Young, Outreach and Training Coordinator at the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Resource Project (DVRP).
Culturally accessible services allow survivors to feel understood, cared for and heard. Providing culturally accessible services requires more than just employing staff who speak the same language as the survivors. It also means ensuring that survivors are understood on a cultural level; that some of their barriers to seeking help might be pre-empted and addressed, and that suggestions by service providers will not further isolate them from their community.
Survivors may feel more comfortable telling their story and accessing services in their native language, even if they speak some English. Family, friends, or neighbors should not serve as interpreters to minimize internal bias or emotion that may interfere with the translation. Additionally, interpreters should be trained and certified as domestic violence advocates to protect the privacy and safety of survivors. While language access is the first step to providing culturally accessible services to a survivor, it is by no means a comprehensive solution.
Underlying social and cultural constructs may discourage reporting of domestic abuse. Family members may dissuade a survivor from reporting abuse, citing family honor. A survivor may be ostracized for seeking help, which can be isolating for a survivor who functions socially in a small, tight-knit community. Many cultures also cast a stigma on counseling or other mental health services, even though these services can help a survivor heal from physical and emotional trauma. For example, in certain cultures, the idea of therapy is frowned upon. Thus, a service provider could reframe the word “therapy” to a more accessible description, like “talking to someone.” Additionally, an advocate should thoroughly explain legal processes, as perceptions of legal aspects of marriage, divorce, and child custody may vary between different cultures. However, advocates must also respect a survivor’s potential decision not to seek services because of potential isolation and further trauma.
Certain cultural constructs may influence family life so that women are more financially, emotionally, and physically reliant on their male partners. Domestic violence can be equated with obedience, and internalized inter-generational oppression can normalize abuse. Dismantling these deeply-ingrained norms can be extremely difficult. A service provider can challenge these patriarchal norms by emotionally supporting the survivor, and empowering her to be more independent, if she so chooses. Dismantling traditional social norms such as: women should not handle family finances, drive cars, or even work, requires a change of mindset that can be a difficult transition from norms that have been passed down through generations.
Survivors who wish to seek help should be supported by any service providers whom they may encounter on their journey. Comprehensive and culturally accessible training for interpreters, advocates, and volunteers promotes safe spaces for survivors to re-empower themselves. Service providers have the responsibility to create a trusting relationship with all survivors regardless of the survivor’s background. In this way, it is possible to create a culture in which services are tailored to each survivor’s needs and experiences.
Marissa Young is the Outreach and Training Coordinator at the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). She works directly with A/PI communities and mainstream service providers in addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and cultural humility in the A/PI community.