Kalihi nonprofit reaches out to Chinese victims of abuse
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
In a first-of-its-kind initiative, a Kalihi nonprofit is reaching out to Chinese immigrants at Honolulu churches, community groups and condominiums to raise awareness about domestic violence and help victims overcome cultural barriers and a persistent stigma to seek help.
The Chinese are the second-largest immigrant group in Hawai'i — just behind Filipinos — but very few Chinese women come forward to seek services.
Advocates say Chinese immigrant women are less likely to ask for help in domestic violence situations because they are afraid of bringing shame on their families and themselves. Statewide statistics do not list victims by ethnicity and citizenship, but nonprofits who help domestic violence victims say they are seeing few Chinese women, which is surprising given their numbers.
There are more than 25,000 immigrant Chinese in Honolulu. The figure doesn't include the thousands of Chinese who have become naturalized citizens, but are similarly hesitant to get help.
Even second-generation Chinese-American women could benefit from the program, advocates say.
"Our first step is to raise awareness in the Chinese community," said Bonny Ngai, a social worker with Na Loio Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center, the nonprofit spearheading the project to help Chinese domestic violence victims.
The Na Loio program comes as other nonprofits also are looking at how to better serve immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. The state is in the midst of setting up a task force to address the problem, and the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline is improving services for Filipino women.
The Filipino program started in 2002 with a grant from the state attorney general's office and specifically targets Filipino immigrants in rural communities on O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands. Program coordinator Helena Manzano said the project has shown significant promise over the past five years.
Specifically, the clearinghouse is seeing more Filipino women and is getting good feedback from outreach and education programs in the Filipino community.
Advocates say domestic violence situations are complicated enough — throwing immigrant status and an imperfect grasp of English into the mix only makes things more difficult. Often, immigrant women worry they could lose their children if they seek help. Many are also financially dependent on their batterer.
The new focus on immigrant women is the latest strategy to get services to underserved populations. Efforts in recent years to target rural women, Native Hawaiian women and women in poverty-stricken areas appear to have made some headway: More and more women are accessing domestic violence services and the number of arrests for spousal abuse have decreased, officials say.
In 2004, the latest year for which statewide figures are available, there were about 39,000 calls to domestic violence organizations for information or referrals, compared with about half that in 1999, according to a report by the crime prevention division in the state attorney general's office. The number of women helped with temporary restraining orders or other legal matters related to domestic violence also increased dramatically during the period, from 1,400 to more than 10,000.
Over the same five-year span, domestic violence arrests dropped.
There were 2,704 abuse of a household member arrests statewide in 2004, about half of which were on O'ahu. In 1999, there were 3,759 arrests.
Adrian Kwock, branch chief of the grants branch of the attorney general's office, said many immigrant women don't realize domestic violence is a crime in the United States. Others prefer not to prosecute because they know a conviction could result in the deportation of their spouse.
The effort to reach out to Chinese women kicked off this year with a $90,000 grant from the state attorney general's office.
The funds helped bring Ngai into the project, paid for ads in two Chinese-language newspapers and regular spots on a Chinese radio program and covered the costs of an invitation-only conference last week at the Ala Moana Hotel for Chinese community leaders and domestic violence advocates.
The conference focused on cultural and practical (financial or legal) barriers for Chinese domestic violence victims, and how they can be overcome.
Na Loio says its own intake statistics demonstrate the problem. Of the 157 immigrant domestic violence victims the organization has helped with full legal representation since 2003, only eight have been Chinese. This from an organization with a long history in the Chinese community on O'ahu and with employees who speak Mandarin and Cantonese.
Though the numbers are grim, Ngai said there is reason for hope.
More and more Chinese immigrants are realizing domestic violence is an issue of concern. In a survey of 186 people Ngai has talked to in recent months, 62 percent said they believe domestic violence is a problem in the Chinese community. About 17 percent knew a domestic violence victim.
Kwock said the Na Loio program isn't about increasing prosecutions, but increasing awareness to let women know there are services available to stop the abuse. Just calling up an agency and talking to someone who speaks the same language — whether it's Cantonese or Tagalog — makes a big difference.
"There's difficulties if you don't speak the language," he said.
"Most of our normal outreach efforts about remedies and what services are available would be in English. This is an attempt to reach a different population."
VICTIMS FEEL AT FAULT
Since she was hired in January, Ngai has visited about a dozen churches, community groups and condominiums that are predominantly Chinese to share information on domestic violence. Some of those meetings have been held at the Chinese Lutheran Church on Liliha Street, a gathering place for Chinese people from around Ho-nolulu who speak Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
Simon Lee, senior pastor at the church, said he is sometimes approached by congregation members and other Chinese residents to help intervene in domestic violence situations. Usually when Lee is asked to help, he will try to talk to the couple together and refer them to other counseling services or discuss their options. Most times, by the time he is involved, "it is already real bad."
Lee said part of the stigma associated with domestic violence is the feeling among Chinese victims that they are to blame for the abuse.
"The wife sometimes will be seen by people as, 'Well, you must have done something wrong. Maybe you were doing something irritating,' " Lee said.
Sometimes, he said, even relatives and friends will shun someone who has come forward to stop domestic violence.
Reach Mary Vorsino at email@example.com.