Spotlighting Agencies Supporting Asian American Survivors

This May as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the Action Alliance highlights the work of two member agencies offering culturally specific support to Asian and Asian American survivors.  While survivors in Asian communities face some of the same struggles as non-Asian survivors, they also have unique considerations related to cultural norms, language access, and immigration status.

Learn more about Boat People SOS and the Korean Community Services Center of Greater Washington below.

BOAT PEOPLE SOS

1.      Tell us a little about your organization.

Boat People SOS, Inc. (BPSOS) is a national community-based organization with 40 years of experience servicing the Vietnamese American community. Founded in 1980, BPSOS’ mission is to “empower, organize and equip Vietnamese refugees and immigrants in their pursuit of liberty and dignity.” Our population has been predominantly Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, most of whom have a long history of trauma, and often are survivors of domestic violence. During the past 40 years, our national network of branch offices has directly assisted over 120,000 Vietnamese residing in Vietnam, on the high seas as boat people, in refugee camps, and after resettlement to the United States. Our long and successful track record of service to this vulnerable population has elevated our trustworthiness and credibility as an organization with cultural competence and subject matter expertise to serve this population. BPSOS is the only Vietnamese American national organization with a physical presence in six locations in the U.S. and one office in Thailand with a total of 65 staff members and a network totaling hundreds of dedicated volunteers.

Group of about 30 people facing a speaker during a workshop presentation.
Boat People SOS Hosts a Workshop

2.      How do you see the needs of Asian survivors differing from other survivors?

Domestic violence has long been prevalent in the Vietnamese community. The high incidence of domestic violence is compounded by significant barriers faced by survivors when accessing mainstream domestic violence services, including limited English competency, cultural tolerance for abusive behavior and general fear of seeking assistance outside the family network. In the Vietnamese culture, despite the fact that they are the survivors, women are often blamed by their own families for the abuse they suffer. Among many traditional families, abuse by their husbands is viewed as an indication of the woman’s bad character, which brings shame to the entire family. This traditional belief often translates to cultural tolerance for violence against women. For many of the survivors we serve, a lack of understanding of U.S. laws is common and exacerbates the barriers detailed above. For example, survivors who are recent immigrants are generally unaware of their rights under the U.S. legal system, such as their right to self-petition for legal permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Moreover, they often fear detention and deportation, especially those who derive their immigration status from their abusive spouses, and this fear often deters these women from seeking assistance and legal recourse. Most survivors don’t have any family members or relatives in the US to help and explain to them what they need to do if they’re physically, sexually, or financially abused. Vietnamese survivors really need case management to explain safety, shelters, protection orders, or separation and divorce. Without devoted and fast supports, survivors may die, commit suicide or get traumatized.

3.      What, if anything, do you want the broader anti-violence community to know or understand about the work you do?

We would want the broader anti-violence community to know and understand that our ultimate goal is to end the cycle of domestic violence among Vietnamese families and to empower and equip survivors to lead self-sufficient, stable, and independent lives for themselves and for their dependents. Our services are very culturally-specific, trauma-informed, free of charge, and strictly voluntary, while protecting confidentiality of client information. Our Communities Against Domestic Violence (CADV) project, started 22 years ago, focused originally on raising community awareness about domestic violence. As a growing number of survivors requested direct services, we gradually built capacity, through long-term case management, to meet the diverse needs of victims, including legal assistance, transitional housing, job placement, financial education, counseling, and social services. With the support of BPSOS’ leadership, in 2012 the CADV management team decided to expand this program to all 6 BPSOS branches nationwide. To date, the CADV Program has assisted over 1,200 Vietnamese and other Asian American survivors of domestic violence across the nation in accessing needed legal and social service assistance. Additionally, over 100 domestic service and legal assistance providers have received our cultural competency trainings.

 4.      How has the COVID pandemic impacted the people you serve?

Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has extremely impacted the people we serve.  Our partner, Just Neighbors, could not meet with new DV victims to do intake, and therefore, they could not help our clients to apply for two-year or ten-year green cards. Some ten-year green card applications have been pending and delayed for submission to USCIS because of this pandemic. Many victims lost their jobs, their health insurance, and hopes to solve their family issues. They have been so depressed, stressed, and worried about their green cards that will expire soon in 2020. One of our female survivor’s son of 20 years old could not fly to the US from Vietnam in March 2020 to reunite with his mother who left Vietnam seven years ago to the US (to live with her abusive husband). We have tried our best to assist people as much as we can during this difficult time.

 5.      What statewide policy change(s) would be most beneficial to helping survivors you support?

Survivors always need financial assistance to pay for rent if they need to move out to live separately from their spouses. If the state can allocate some funds to assist survivors with this need, that would be great. We usually just provide any assistance they need (interpretation, translation, referrals, legal, shelter, safety plan, etc.) but we are unable to provide financial assistance which is very important for survivors to quickly move away from the abusers who always curse victims/survivors with threatening words and violent actions.

 6.      What can people do to support your organization and work?

 People can support our organization and work with different ways: (1) Donate or invest in our program; (2) Volunteer to assist our community; (3) Stay informed and spread the word to others. Together, we can advocate successfully for victims and survivors in any fields so that they can rebuild their life with dignity and liberty.

KOREAN COMMUNITY SERVICES CENTER OF GREATER WASHINGTON

1.      Tell us a little about your organization.

KCSC is a one-stop shop non-profit providing social services for the Asian American community. It brings a multidisciplinary approach to Asian Americans and new immigrants through social service, education, advocacy, and development of resources. The Victim Services program aims to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services in coordination with prevention educators, transitional housing assistants, advocates, and community engagement staff.

2.      How do you see the needs of Asian survivors differing from other survivors?

While domestic violence survivors’ basic needs are similar, what’s particular to Asian survivors are the culturally deep-rooted idea of family unity and the responsibility of holding the family or providing the children an intact family. Asian survivors are deeply related to family-centered and patriarchal cultural values. This sometimes makes it hard to decide the options that they need.  In addition, they don’t know where and how they can get practical help or useful resources because of barriers, such as instability of their legal status, lack of command of English, and lack of connections. Sometimes survivors feel more isolated and depressed without support systems where they can reach out for help when they don’t feel safe at home.

kcscgw-cfc-awareness-event-with-apanet-in-partnership-with-patents-business-units

Tabling to Raise Awareness of KCSC’s Services

3.      What, if anything, do you want the broader anti-violence community to know or understand about the work you do?

KCSC not only provides case management to clients, but also reaches out to other community members to provide DV seminars regarding Asian culture and how to help immigrants survivors from different cultures. We are willing to get connected with other relevant agencies providing similar services and have cross-training, if possible. 

4.      How has the COVID pandemic impacted the people you serve?

The pandemic has impacted clients in many different ways. Many clients’ employment stability was negatively impacted, which spiked the needs for social services and financial assistance. In order to prevent sexual violence and dating violence, close cooperation and engagements with the local community are very important. This type of the education session is more efficient in the setting of in-person gatherings. However, due to COVID-19, it is challenging to do outreach.

5.      What statewide policy change(s) would be most beneficial to helping survivors you support?

Language assistance in the legal system: Clients need equal access to legal services and remedies. For example, adequate communication in any aspect of accessing the legal system from finding an attorney, understanding options, filling out forms, and simply navigating the courthouse.

Immigration status: A good number of my clients depend on their abusive spouses for their immigration status, thus VAWA Self-petition is a pivotal grounding for those clients. Continue to advocate to expedite the VAWA application process.

Housing: Protecting renters’ and homeowners’ rights, especially during COVID-19 would be beneficial to helping survivors have a continuously secure and safe place (See National Housing Law Project).  

6.      What can people do to support your organization and work?

(1) Have the curiosity and be open-minded to the domestic violence issues in the community. Raise awareness and have open conversations about domestic violence in Asian communities. (2) Share information about KCSC through your social media and other connections. (3) Volunteer your time with KCSC. (4) Donate to KCSC.

Interested in learning more about gender-based violence in Asian and Pacific Islander communities? Find resources and reports from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. API-GBV has COVID-19 In-Language Resources and Resources for Survivors and Service Providers during COVID-19.

Partnership through the State and Local Partners Meetings

1I’ll never forget the first time I attended a State and Local Partners meeting.

I had just started with the Action Alliance and was invited to attend this meeting a few weeks from my start date. This particular meeting was at UVA-Wise – a pretty far drive from Richmond, and the farthest I’ve ever driven in Virginia! As we drove through the mountains, I remember feeling excited to learn more about the field of sexual and domestic violence advocacy, getting a chance to meet new people throughout the state, and spend time with co-workers learning more about the work of the Action Alliance.

For most State and Local Partners meetings, agencies in a particular region of the state come together for a day to talk about topics related to our work that are important to that region, get updates about work being done across the state, and hear updates, news, and announcements from the convening partners including the Action Alliance, Virginia Department of Social Services, Department of Criminal Justice Services, Virginia Department of Health, and the Department of Housing and Community Development. The Action Alliance is one of partners that helps organize and facilitate these meetings. For each quarterly meeting, the convening partners rotate the roles of facilitator and time-keeper.

At this first meeting, I remember we focused on prevention services and how difficult it was for agencies to address mental/behavioral health and substance use concerns. Other meetings I’ve attended have focused on working with underserved populations, funding concerns, survivor data privacy as well as privacy in communal living situations, and more. There’s always something to be learned at the meetings.

What so many advocates and directors walk away with after these meetings is not only practical resources from partners and other agencies on how to do better work in Virginia, but they’ve also built better relationships by being in the same room, listening to each other, knowing that we are facing the same concerns, speaking the truths that are difficult about our work, and collaborating to solve problems in the moment. This networking power is phenomenal and keeps advocates and directors looking forward to State and Local Partners meetings every quarter. I personally created so many connections with folks from that first meeting. It was a great “welcome aboard” opportunity.

If you are interested in joining us for a meeting and building these great connections to help you in the work and the movement to end violence, you’ll want to save the following dates:

  • February 11, hosted by Goochland Cares, will be for agencies in the Central Virginia region. You can RSVP at this link.
  • May 19 will be hosted in Northwestern Virginia
  • August 11 will be hosted in Southwestern Virginia
  • November 10 will be hosted in the Eastern Virginia

This year, we’re working to make sure our State and Local Partners meetings are nurturing your needs. If you have any questions or ideas, please reach out to Tamara Mason at tmason[at]vsdvalliance.org!


Amanda Pohl is the Data Systems and Evaluation Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She works with a team to ensure survivor data is kept private and in the control of survivors and provides valuable insight on data that is used to inform policy and tell the stories of survivors and the work of agencies in Virginia.

Spotlight on Judy Casteele: This Work is a Calling

In 1988, Judy Casteele began doing sexual and domestic violence work at the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley. There, her supervisor introduced her to the Action Alliance and she has been helping us fulfill our mission ever since!

When others say, “I don’t know how you do this work,” Judy’s response is, “I don’t know how I couldn’t.” She continues, “every day we make a difference in the lives of survivors.” Despite the challenge of not always knowing if our work is re-shaping how society sees this issue, Judy is motivated to continue because she understands the importance of her work.

Her support doesn’t stop at the Action Alliance! Judy is the Executive Director at Project Horizon in Lexington, Virginia and also supports many other local agencies across the state. But she does believe that the Action Alliance has a special place in this work by providing support and guidance to local agencies in Virginia. While local agencies are providing direct services and creating safe havens for survivors, the Action Alliance is able to reach legislators and funders who can help support the movement.

Judy with dude

So why does Judy give? She loves being able to support the Action Alliance on a regular basis and encourages others not to lose sight of the importance of continuous giving. Judy hopes that she can help future generations understand just how important this movement is and how much of a difference they can make, even by helping just one person. She urges people to continue to push for change saying, “I’ve seen how far we’ve come over the last 30 years, but there is still much more to be done.”

This dedication to the movement even pours out into Judy’s personal life. When she’s not working with Project Horizon or serving as the Action Alliance’s Finance Officer, Judy can be found hanging with friends and family or doing work with her church. Her church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, has partnered with Project Horizon to serve as advocates for domestic violence in their community. For Judy, this work is not just a job, but it is truly a calling.

judy-at-desk.jpg

Thank you, Judy, for your hard work and dedication!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.


Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335

Governing Body Members Take Action! to Raise Funds

During the month of October, the Governing Body of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance decided to raise $4,000 for the cause to end sexual and domestic violence. As they are spread around the state, they decided to hold neighborhood parties or go viral with an online giving circle.

And they succeeded, by raising just over the goal of $4,000. Kudos and many thanks to our awesome governing body members:

Kathleen Demro, Gena Boyle, Sanu Dieng, Michelle Hensley, Becky Lee, Jennifer Bourne, Judy Casteele, Frank Charbonneau, Joni Coleman, Marva Dunn, Janett Forte, Ted Heck, Sheree Hedrick, Claudia Muniz, Claire Sheppard, and Tabitha Smith.

 

 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

Kristi visits centers across Southwest Virginia

One of the more exciting roles of the Executive Director of the Action Alliance is to visit the member sexual and domestic violence agencies. This is one important way we keep in touch with what is happening in our cause area across the Commonwealth. I decided to share my latest trip to Southwest Virginia with you.

tamywithsheltercat

Tamy with Ms. Kitty

Monday: 

It is early afternoon and I am pulling up next to a huge, red Victorian house in Covington, Virginia. Tamy Mann, Executive Director, meets me in the parking lot, and it is not too long before Miss Kitty, the “Deputy Director,” joins us. Tamy and Miss Kitty give me a tour of the playground that was recently updated by the Rotary Club and then take me over to a garage/shed that is being converted into a group room, a play space for teens, and with the help of some community grant funds, new office space to accommodate a rapidly expanding staff.

Thanks to new federal Victims Of Crime Act (VOCA) funding administered by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services money that comes from criminal fines and fees converted into vital victim services—Safehome Systems in Covington will have 24-hour staff on-site for the first time EVER. Those staff will welcome, support and counsel survivors in a warm and welcoming space thanks to Tamy and many members of the community who have worked hard over the past three years to complete major renovations to the shelter and offices and major improvements to the services offered throughout Craig and Bath counties. I spend a few hours with Tamy and her staff—and then leave them as they prepare from more interviews for nighttime and weekend staff. I head south and west…headed to Bristol on Tuesday.

A side note:  when you have been driving on country roads and have no idea where you are, but you are trusting your GPS, and then your GPS is telling you to turn on a country road that has a big, big sign that says “GPS not advisable on this route” what do you do??!

bristolfundraiser

Bristolopy

Tuesday:

Stephanie Poe, Executive Director of the Crisis Center greets me in the Center’s offices which are located firmly on the Virginia side of the VA/TN line that runs through Bristol. Stephanie heads up a small but mighty staff who are delivering a diverse set of services meeting a wide range of community needs. In addition to providing sexual violence services the agency operates a regional suicide hotline, manages a service that provides support to home-bound elderly and disabled adults, and fills community gaps for other crisis and support services, including the current support group for autism spectrum families. They do all of this with the help of a large and diverse group of volunteers and “Experience Works” employees who are all over the age of 55.

As I am leaving Stephanie shares the plans for their newest fundraiser: a new and improved version of “Bristolopoly!” As someone who LOVES Monopoly and has fond memories of weekend games that lasted for hours, this is just TOO COOL!

michelle

Michelle Hensley

Wednesday:

Two visits today!! The weather is still beautiful, and the drive from Bristol to Gate City takes me through some beautiful countryside. There are three big highlights to this leg of my journey. The first is hearing about the plans Michelle Hensley, Executive Director of Hope House, is making after receiving a significant increase in state and VOCA funding. Hope House will be expanding to add sexual violence services—for the first time ever in this part of Virginia!!! Overall the staff size will double—making it possible to add a wide range of services for children and adults and making those services available 24 hours a day. Funds will also be applied to leasing a new outreach office—and moving staff offices out of the shelter will make space for 10 additional beds, which will truly be a blessing in this community where the shelter has been full since March!

The second highlight of this trip was meeting some of the new Hope House staff—what an awesome, passionate group of advocates. And the third highlight had to be the pastries.  They have one heck of a bakery in Gate City!!

playspaceathopehouse

Hope House Play Space

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Marybeth Adkins and Kristi Van Audenhove

From Gate City I traveled down the road to Norton to meet with Marybeth Adkins, Executive Director of Family Crisis Support Services (FCSS). FCSS is another agency that is providing a wide range of community services—both sexual and domestic violence services, prevention education, and homeless prevention and shelter services. Sexual and domestic violence services are also expanding in this southwest community as a result of state and federal funding increases:  FCSS will be adding children’s services and like many other agencies, the funds also made it possible to reach the level of 24/7 staffing that ensures that survivors can reach a trained advocate any time of the day or night.

I enjoyed learning about a few unique partnerships that are working well in Norton. One of those partnerships is with a local movie theater that advertises the hotline number during each movie, provides movie tickets for shelter residents, and collaborates with FCSS to make safe space available for survivors. Family Crisis Support Services was also gearing up for a fun fall fundraiser while I was there—a flag football game between the Sheriff’s office and the fire department!!

jennifer

Jennifer Bourne

Thursday: 

Thursday morning I arrive at the Clinch Valley Community Action Agency just as Jennifer Bourne, Director of Family Crisis Services, arrives for work.  She takes me on a quick tour of the shelter (a spacious and well designed space that seems to be bustling this morning!) before heading up to her office. As I sit down in Jennifer’s office I am delighted by her bulletin board—a wonderful collection of posters, flyers, bumper stickers and more that provide a visible herstory of the movement!!

Perhaps most impressive of all is a flip chart page that is posted across the room with no fewer than 25 activities that are planned for October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Family Crisis Services has a high level of commitment to educating their community –about the issues of sexual and domestic violence, about the resources that are available, and about healthy relationships.  From a Porch Light Campaign to a PJ party—there is something for everyone!!jenniferbulletinboardsmaller

The new state and VOCA funds are making it possible for Family Crisis Services to expand sexual violence prevention programming from the high school to the middle school, add the service of sheltering pets, and provide professional mental health counseling for trauma survivors who need that vital service. There will also be 4 new staff at the shelter—making 24-hour staff available for the first time!!

From Tazewell I head north and east to visit the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley (WRC) in Radford. It is always a pleasure to see my long-time friend Pat Brown and to hear about how programs are evolving at the Women’s Resource Center. The Women’s Resource Center is one of Virginia’s very first sexual and domestic violence agencies and has been a leader in the field since those very early days. I spend some time with Pat talking about an emerging concern of Executive Directors across the state—how to bring their agencies into compliance with the new federal overtime rules by December 1. For agencies that have relied upon advocates to work flexible hours, to be on-call on weekends and overnight, to accompany survivors to the hospital and to court and to stay with them as long as they want and need an advocate, even when that is 6, 10, 12 hours or more the new overtime rules may be very costly to implement. Directors are balancing fair labor practices, which they value highly, with strong advocacy and support for survivors, which they value highly as well!

tazewellsmallerEven in this agency with nearly 40 staff, the VOCA funds and the state funding increases are making a difference. WRC has added Justice System Navigators to work on behalf of survivors in each of the localities they serve, a campus Outreach Specialist to provide dedicated services to students, and other outreach staff who will expand the reach of the agency—including connections with the LGBTQ community.  This was a great way to wrap up my trip—a cold beverage, some yummy nachos (thank you Laura Weaver), and a sense of having come full circle.

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has been a leader in coalition work, advocacy and policy for nearly 40 years. 

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335. 

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org