by Mohammad Levesque-Alam, Communications Coordinator
On April 13th, I spoke on a sexual and domestic violence panel sponsored by a Columbia University student group in recognition of Asian Pacific American Awareness Month.
About 20 students attended the panel, which was moderated by student Angel Lam and included Haemy Lee and Fronthy Nguyen, both from the New York Asian Women’s Center.
Before the discussion began, we all watched an approximately 20-minute video about an interactive audio-visual installation on domestic violence called Living Portrait. Through a slowly transitioning rotation of shadows, silhouettes, and real faces, combined with the voices of survivors of domestic violence, the video conveys the experiences, trauma, and abuse faced by survivors.
During the 45-minute panel discussion, the moderator and attendees alike asked fairly common questions surrounding domestic violence, such as whether only physical abuse is domestic violence, or whether there are culturally-specific barriers for reporting abuse, or whether there warning signs to look out for in identifying a potential abuser.
As my co-panelists and I took turns explaining, domestic violence is multi-faceted. While physical abuse can be the most obvious aspect if one is left with bruises, it is often accompanied or preceded by other forms of abuse, including verbal abuse and economic abuse. Constantly putting someone down, calling them names, and belittling them is definitely abuse. Furthermore, trying to restrict someone’s access to their own income or prevent them from maintaining their own bank account is also abuse.
Barriers for women of color and immigrant women can be high. Limited proficiency in English is a major potential barrier which Sakhi has been working to address for years through our Court Interpreter Project. Sakhi and NYAWC also have staff onhand who speak a variety of languages appropriate for their respective constituents. Since abusers try to control and isolate their victims, those experiencing domestic violence may not have fluency in English or much familiarity with key institutions and systems, like the police and the courts.
With respect to warning signs, we all agreed that abusers’ attempts to cut off an individual from their support systems, like friends and family, and emotional and psychological manipulation are clear causes for concern.
The panel ended on a positive note, as people asked what they can do to help organizations or survivors of domestic violence. The NYAWC participants and I mentioned a few key common points: one, don’t judge people in abusive situations if they are not doing what you consider the “obvious” choice; and, two, donate your time or resources to help out when possible!